The Nonconformist

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.

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.

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Jill Koch
Contact: Jill Koch