How would you feel if you loved doing something, but were afraid of what others might think about it?
Anthony Uzzanti knows that feeling. He also knows the feeling of satisfaction that comes from moving beyond fear to follow his heart. Or in this case, his fast-moving feet.
Uzzanti is a male dancer – in Arizona. A place not known for a long tradition of male dancers. And though things are changing, a place where conformity is often rewarded and non-conformity reviled.
“I always knew it was something I wanted to do, but I was afraid to dance,” said Uzzanti.
There was the stigma of the male dancer, to start. But he was also picked on and ostracized as a child.
“I didn’t want to compound that,” said Uzzanti. “If I’d had more confidence, I would have started dancing sooner.”
A good student, he signed up for the dual enrollment program at Glendale Community College in fall 2008, during his senior year at Sandra Day O’Connor high school.
Academically, he trod a conventional path initially. After taking general education courses at GCC, he transferred to Northern Arizona University as a Mechanical Engineering major. But it didn’t sit well. After three semesters, he acknowledged he just wasn’t happy. Something was missing.
He came back home to Phoenix and contemplated his options.
As a child, most of Uzzanti’s exposure to dance was through the activities of his four sisters. Two of them danced, and his oldest sister was in competitive gymnastics along with some dance activities.
He remembered the satisfaction he’d had when he danced a part in high school, though at that point, a career in dance was beyond his imagination. Not to mention the ever-present concern about how others might view him if he were to embrace his interest.
But by the time he left NAU and the world of engineering, Uzzanti was 20. “I’m an adult now,” he remembers thinking. He decided it was time to do something he enjoyed, instead of worrying about what others might think.
So in the summer of 2010, he started dancing on his own, exploring and finding places where B boys (break dancers) would session and practice. He sat in and tried to do his own thing. It was a new world. And it felt good.
“Eventually you grow up and say, ‘who cares what others think’,” he said.
His mother, who used to dance as a kid, and his father, who owns a software company, were always supportive. At first, Uzzanti thought about going to L.A. and finding work – something, anything – while he honed his dance skills.
But there was near-instantaneous support for returning to GCC. For one thing, Uzzanti and his family lived nearby. But there was something more: the college had a dance program.
That was enough to put a spring in the young man’s step. The encouragement of his family only grew as they saw him express the passion and drive he had never shown in anything else. His father was behind him every step of the way.
At GCC, he found the formal training and instruction he needed to move forward. The program taught him the fundamentals of dance and put him on the path to a career in the field.
Just as important, Uzzanti discovered within himself the strength of his own drive, along with a desire to improve. “I had been lethargic and generally lazy,” he said. “Dance taught me my purpose and motivated me to do tasks I don’t want to do.”
“Andy came to GCC Dance in the fall of 2010 with extremely limited experience and dance training,” said Andrea Hashim, GCC Dance Program director. “Due to his commitment, perseverance and dedication, he excelled in his GCC Dance courses and was accepted as a Dance major at one of the nation’s top five Bachelor of Fine Arts Dance programs – The University of Arizona’s School of Dance.”
Uzzanti began his studies at the UA in spring 2013. Though he still sees himself as a “B boy,” his days are now filled with ballet, modern dance and jazz. His minor is Adolescent Communication and Education.
Immersed in the Dance program, he works with other like-minded creative souls. “They’re talented and driven, and I feed off their passion when mine runs out – which is rarely,” he laughed.
Uzzanti has danced in several shows and has had an opportunity to work on his choreography. And he’s on track to finish his bachelor’s degree as early as spring 2015.
His career might eventually lead to counseling teens or teaching in high school. Or maybe even heading a dance department within a high school.
For now, he wants to be a professional dancer as long as he can. Perhaps choreograph, or own his own company to express his own artistic vision. His dream job? Artistic director and choreographer of a world-touring dance company.
Then again, it might be fun to be an independently contracted choreographer out of L.A., choreographing for pop stars and movie stars, or maybe creating new works as a guest choreographer. Now that he’s in the flow, the possibilities seem endless.
The challenges, both physical and mental, are significant. But for Uzzanti, challenging himself represents a desire to do well: the harder it is, the better he knows he’s doing. “Every day is difficult, but in the best, most amazing way,” he said.
His girlfriend, who grew up with ballet training, considers herself mostly a jazz dancer now. She can do hip hop and other street dance as well. Starting in June, Uzzanti will be teaching b-boying and hip hop at her dance studio, Studio One in Tucson, for a month or two, to students from five to 15 or 16.
Uzzanti will show them the fundamentals of movement and how to put things together in creative ways. He says it’s important for students to know it’s all about the work you put in, especially in competitive fields like dance.
He hopes to inspire them, to help them find their own styles and to encourage them to embrace the path of self-discovery. His most important message: You need to know you want it, and if you put in the work, you’ll get better.
Success might not come as quickly as you’d like. But if you do the work, success will eventually find you. For Anthony Uzzanti, it’s closing in.