I recently had the pleasure of meeting with some young men, all newly minted graduates of Corona del Mar High School, who did something so ridiculously cool that I just had to share it.
First, you must picture these eight men. They are whip-smart, articulate and ambitious, with a combined average GPA well north of 4.0. Each lettered in at least one varsity sport, and all are headed to prestigious universities.
One aspires to become the Los Angeles district attorney; another wants to be a Marine Corps officer, and others plan to pursue studies in physics, biology, business and engineering. They'll be "professional nerds," as one of them puts it; more likely, they'll be among our future leaders.
But that's not why I'm writing about them. Their story is compelling because they risked the worst of fates — the ridicule of other teenagers — in an attempt to venture outside their wheelhouse.
They decided to dance.
These young men comprise the group Brochesis — the name is a play on the all-girl Orchesis dance company at CdM — which they formed a little more than a year ago, despite the obvious impediment that none had ever received any dance training.
Nonetheless, in a short amount of time, the group became a sensation at the high school, a hit on YouTube, and the inspiration for what could morph into a permanent CdM boys' dance team.
(Disclosure: I've known a few of the boys for many years and count their parents as friends.)
It all started in the spring of 2011 when one of the boys, Scott Stone, wanted to ask a girl to prom. Looking for a creative way to pop the question, Stone asked his buddies — Connor Maloney, Thomas Hunter, Matt Francini, Daniel Anastos, Alex Murray and Remy Lamons — to join him as he danced and sang the Backstreet Boys' "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)."
They received permission to interrupt one of the girl's classes to perform the number — she said "yes" — after which a recording of the routine was posted to YouTube. The Huffington Post later featured it as one of 10 "adorable prom proposals."
As word spread, the boys decided to perform a flash-mob dance to 'N Sync's "Pop" at school last fall. Employing nothing but their wits, enthusiasm and pure moxie, they worked on the routine all summer, squeezing practices into their busy schedules.
"If we could get three of us together at once, that was a good day," Murray said.
(An eighth student, Jedd Thayer, joined the group when he transferred back to CdM after attending school in Bakersfield for a few years.)
The performance was a campus hit. That's about the time Orchesis director Cami Marseilles took notice.
She took the boys under her wing. She helped choreograph new numbers for Brochesis, taught them some dance fundamentals, included them in dance programs and even gave wardrobe advice.
The boys performed in a Christmas rally, staged another "prom-asking" dance for all eight to score dates in unison, participated in the district dance festival and danced at an autism charity event Marseilles organized.
The experience gave the boys a newfound respect for Orchesis, and for the hard work and artistry that dancers put into each performance.
"I definitely have a lot more appreciation for what they do," Anastos said.
There were occasional awkward moments, such as when the boys noticed a few blank stares from audience members, or when a communication lapse led one girl to miss her prom proposal. They encountered unlikely obstacles, including their fumbling attempts at ironing on lettering to spell out the names of Santa's reindeer on their Christmas costumes.
"We couldn't figure out how to iron," Francini said. "It took the combined intelligence of all eight of us."
Yet somehow they made it work, and through it all they kept their nerve.
"A year ago, I would never have dared to do these things," Stone said.
Added Maloney, "Before we just considered ourselves straight-up athletes. This was a whole new territory to break into."
The Brochesis members will soon be going their separate ways as they depart for top-ranked colleges, including USC, Stanford, Bucknell, Vanderbilt, the University of Wisconsin and UCLA.
But they'll take with them some incredible memories and the confidence that comes from taking a chance, trying something new and being willing to fail.
District should start anew
A quick thought on Newport-Mesa Unified's new superintendent, Fred Navarro, who is due to take the helm Aug. 1:
The district has gone through a difficult year because of the uncertainty and controversy surrounding the trail of former Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard. It's well past time to move on, and the new superintendent deserves the chance to show what he can do without any rancor or reserve.
It's also time to expect that the school board members who stubbornly refused to believe that Hubbard did anything wrong now get it. Tellingly, the press release announcing Navarro's appointment featured the word "integrity" not one but three times, and included four references to his communication and collaboration skills.
He'll need all that and more for the job that lies ahead. For now, we must take board members at their word that they chose carefully and with a mind toward the balance of character, courage, and forthrightness that Newport-Mesa's new chief will require and families deserve.
PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.