Dances with bulls: Behind the chute at Cowtown Rodeo [photos]

    During the week, Troy Alexander develops counter bio-terrorism devices to test for anthrax, small pox and other biological weapons. On the weekends, the scientist travels two hours from his Maryland home to Pilesgrove, N.J., where he attempts the impossible — an eight-second “dance” with a 1,600-pound bull.

    For Alexander, bull riding is not about competing with the other dozen or so cowboys who show up every Saturday night at the Cowtown Rodeo; it is about staying step for step with the bull, reacting, and counter-reacting to its every move.

    “Once you leave the chute with the animal, it is all up to you, there is no reprieve,” Alexander said. “At some point, we are going to get on the same page and we’re going to dance.”

    The “dance,” as cowboys refer to it, demands complete commitment and concentration. One false move or misread roll results in being hurled onto the dirt floor of the arena.

    “Things can go bad in a heartbeat,” admits Alexander. “We’ve seen things happen — guys get stepped on, broken jaws, broken legs, backs, you name it. You quickly understand where priorities lie when you are in this business.”

    As a veteran of the professional rodeo circuit, Alexander began his career as a cowboy 23 years ago during his freshman year of college at Louisiana State University. He remembers growing up watching his father compete in segregated rodeos throughout the South, so becoming a cowboy seemed like a natural fit.

    One criticism he often hears as a bull rider has been about the mistreatment and abuse of animals in the rodeo. But after traveling to 43 states, Alexander said he’s never witnessed the mistreatment of animals in a professional arena.

    “To the contrary, I’ve seen people go to great lengths to care for the animals,” added Alexander.

    Despite the criticism and risk of the rodeo, Alexander said he is a frontiersman, willing to cross the plank of the chute and onto the bull for one more “dance.”

    The Cowtown Rodeo runs through Saturday, September 28.

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