For many teenagers, high school is an exercise in blending in. Francesco Caban directed his energies elsewhere.
He joined the dance program at Arcadia High, then the cheer squad -- both times, the only boy.
Caban says he endured a lot of name-calling. Once his classmates saw his intensity and commitment -- not to mention his biceps -- respect finally came.
Cheerleading served Caban well, building his muscles and his confidence -- two things he needed in early 2003, when he joined Nebellen as its youngest member (he's now the second-youngest). Caban, 18, admits he was extremely nervous at his audition, but, after making the cut, he jumped in with both feet.
I didn't consider it intimidating. I considered it a chance to learn, he says. There was nobody I was better than, so I didn't feel pressure to upstage anyone.
Even so, he dances as though his life depends on it. He's such a hard worker, says Ellen Rath. He comes to every rehearsal, even learns the pieces he's not cast in.
At such a rehearsal, Caban's in the corner, shadowing the other dancers. He is concentration in a stocking cap. Between numbers -- when his troupe mates are lounging or outside smoking -- he's practicing jumps in the middle of the floor.
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He's been taking ballet and hip-hop classes -- at school and on his own time -- and teaches break-dancing to 5- to 10-year-olds. Come fall, Arcadia's cheer squad will be minus the man power: Caban's graduated, and he's headed to ASU's renowned dance program.
He wishes he'd found dance earlier.
I was an angry kid, he says. The older he got, the more antisocial he became. At a dance during the summer before his junior year, Caban felt himself change direction. I just started messing around, and people said I was a good dancer.
I put all that energy into dance and was able to focus more on other things. In a way, it kind of saved me.