Sunny Hills alumna Rhonda Shellow recalls the last time Dance Production [DP] featured a male member.
“It wasn’t a ‘team’ per se, but you did have to audition and be selected to a limited group,” Shellow writes in an email response to an SH alumni Facebook post. “I was in Dance Production in 1980-1981, and we did have a full-time male member. He is the first full-time [male] member.”
Two decades later, the movie “Billy Elliot” hits theaters with its plot about a 1980s 11-year-old British boy who prefers to join the all-girl ballet class instead of the all-male boxing one. The protagonist has to prove to his family and friends that he’s more cut out for the dancing stage than a fighting ring.
And then nearly another 20 years after that, Sunny Hills’ DP once again has a boy dancer, a 21st-century Billy Elliot, if you will, only a few years older than the 11-year-old fictional character from the big screen.
“Watching the play inspired me in ways that it allowed me to feel more confident of being a male dancer,” freshman David Burn said. “Like Billy, I try to embody his bold character of not letting any obstacles hold him back from being able to reach his fullest potential.”
Burn watched the play in fourth grade, which was a few months after he took his first dance class at Stage One in Fullerton. He felt inspired to keep pursuing his passion to continue dancing.
“My dream, after watching DP dance in sixth grade, has been to be able to dance on the DP team since they’re so talented,” says Burn, who was one of eight freshman and juniors to join DP this school year.
The three-day audition in the SH dance room was held April 25-28. Throughout the three days, the dancers were taught two dances. On the final day of auditions, they had to show them to the panel of judges along with a self-choreographed routine.
Burn choreographed a lyrical routine to a heartfelt song to Sleeping at Last showing off his technical skills.
“When I first saw [Burn] dance, I was so excited to think he could possibly join our team,” recalls DP director Leiana Volen, who’s in her third year coaching her dancers. “His strong technical training was a plus, but his passion and choreographic skills were what really caught my interest.”
Burn credits his growth as a dancer from the 15-hour-a-week training he receives at Fullerton’s Cathleen Forcucci Dance Academy, where he has been going to since he was 8 years old.
Even though he has participated in over twenty competitions with that dance academy, winning numerous awards as a soloist and with his group, the freshman remembers he was quite nervous when Volen announced the final cut by posting the names on the dance department’s website.
“I was surprised after I saw that I made it on the team because I didn’t know what to expect,” he says.
Burn and the other new dancers made their public debut at the Aug. 17 “Welcome Back” assembly in the gym, joining the 11 veteran DP members in a number that involved hip-hop with Trip Lee, Nicki Minaj and Cardi-B blasting through the speakers.
“I practiced a lot because I didn’t want to mess up in front of everyone,” he says.
Burn remained in beat, not missing a step with the others on the team.
“[Having a male dancer] is a great adjustment to the dynamic of our typically all-female team,” Volen explains. “He brings a different kind of energy and power to our dancing.”
It was also an easy adjustment for the girls to get used to dancing with a boy.
“As dancers, we have to be comfortable dancing with guys,” senior co-captain Annabella Vidrio said. “David fit in really easily, which allowed the adjustment to be a lot smoother and more exciting.”
Several students in the bleachers were quite impressed with Burn as well.
“I noticed that the new guy on the team was super talented [that day],” junior Rachel Kim says.
Burn believes that being the only male on a high school dance team requires a lot of courage because some students often peg that person as being gay.
However, he hopes that his skills on the dance floor will inspire others since he believes dancing helps to express his inner feelings.
“People have a stereotype for male dancers, but there are a lot of incredible male dancers out there who aren’t [gay],” he says. “It’s hard for male dancers who have a hard time dealing with these assumptions.”
Burn is excited to dance with the team until he graduates. He hopes to go to a university for dance and possibly join a dance company in the future.
“I am honored and humbled to be a part of such a supportive team who helps me feel like a part of such an amazing family,” he says.
“I hope that joining this team and going to a good university for dance will help me start a small studio for aspiring dancers,” Burn says.