Lucas Rodriguez, a Schenectady-based dancer and choreographer, has learned to chart his own path, despite setbacks, twists and turns.
The SUNY Schenectady freshman has worked toward a career in theater for years, and he’s taken an unusual route, forgoing a traditional high school education in favor of intensive dance training.
“I was always into theater. Growing up from the time I was 4, my favorite things to watch were recordings of ‘The Nutcracker’ and musicals,” Rodriguez said.
However, it wasn’t until he watched “Cats” that he realized dancing was going to be his way into the field. At 13, he started dancing at Myers Ballet School in Schenectady.
“Lucas is a very determined young man; he was always that, from the very beginning,” said Darlene Myers, the founder of the school.
“That’s what really let him get very far in his dancing. Everything that I challenged him with he rose to the occasion. It didn’t really matter what it was.”
Just a few years after starting with Myers, Rodriguez started studying in the pre-professional program at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School.
“It was very intense. I think going into it I wasn’t prepared because . . . this was on a national level, so that was intimidating,” Rodriguez said, “I remember the environment, at the time it felt like it was very cutthroat, but then again, I was a vulnerable and young teenager.”
His formal education was also on pause during that time. As a child, and one of five, he had mostly been home-schooled, but when he was in his mid-teens, that stopped partly because his family was going through a period of turmoil.
“I think my future was just not on anybody’s agenda or minds to plan out. So that fell by the wayside,” Rodriguez said. “I stuck to my dancing throughout all of this family drama. At this point, I was still [thinking] ‘I need to get my GED.’. . but with all the crap that was going on, it was just such an easy thing to sweep under the rug.”
Instead, he focused on dancing. He started teaching at Myers Ballet School around 2014, while he continued auditioning for national schools. He trained with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy during its summer intensive in New York City and took part in summer intensives at Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah. Locally, he danced with the Northeast Ballet Company, which is led by Myers.
“[It’s] great because it was professional dance work. Darlene Myers, I just have to say, she gives local dancers such a wonderful opportunity. Some of my most glorious on-stage moments have come from dancing at Proctors with her company,” Rodriguez said.
Then, in 2018, Rodriguez secured a scholarship to the Oklahoma City Ballet’s summer program and proceeded to land a spot in the ballet’s studio company.
“That was a major experience. It was my first time being with a national company. It’s different when you’re a student and you’re dancing at a national school; when you’re in the company, choreographers are brought in and it’s this whole other ball game . . . it was a lot but it was one of the best experiences of my life because I got so much exposure to it but I also learned that where I was I couldn’t see myself,” Rodriguez said.
His goal was to get an apprenticeship with the company and then move up from there.
“At this point, I had been around the bend with dance. I was not sure how much further I was going to take it because, throughout my whole dancing [career], I never had the correct facility for classical ballet. I had very shallow turnout . . . I wasn’t tall enough because men should be closer to 6 feet, I’m 5 foot 8. There [were] a lot of things that I was constantly working against but I was so in love with the classical beauty of it. That kept me going for a long time,” Rodriguez said.
Back to the books
When he wasn’t offered an apprenticeship at the end of the season, he decided to refocus on getting his High School Equivalency degree. In studying, he was mainly struggling in math, so last year, he enrolled in the Capital Region BOCES Adult Education program, specifically the summer Math Fast Track program.
“When I approached the BOCES program, I was in a really dark place because the season with Oklahoma City Ballet had just ended and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life . . . so it became this thing that I could throw myself into,” Rodriguez said. “It was two months of intensive math drilling and I just put the dedication into it that I had put into my dancing because I just was determined to finally get this done.”
Capital Region BOCES Adult Education Case Manager Tarin Bready said Rodriguez worked diligently and was able to get his degree within a matter of months. “This is a remarkable and admirable feat. He has an open, amiable nature,” Bready said.
Afterward, Rodriguez, now in his early 20s, threw himself into the local dance and theater community. Last year, he danced with Northeast Ballet in the company’s rendition of “The Nutcracker,” one of his favorite productions to perform in.
“He was one of my favorite Nutcrackers. He was fantastic in that role. He’s very gifted and he made that role into his own,” Myers said.
Rodriguez also choreographed and performed in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” with The Not Common Players of Clifton Park, and continued to work at The Costumer in Schenectady as a wig stylist.
Those experiences rekindled his passion for theater and pointed him forward.
“I always had this broad idea of wanting to be this classically trained triple threat. I had the dance background . . . and then I want to add classical singing to that. Then eventually, I want to go to drama school to become a trained actor,” Rodriguez said.
A student and a teacher
This fall, he enrolled in SUNY Schenectady’s music school and has been studying everything from voice to piano.
“It’s a lot of work and I never went to high school so all this was definitely a little bit overwhelming at first. But everything that I’m doing I just love and [am] so passionate about it,” Rodriguez said.
He plans to complete a year-long music certificate program at SUNY Schenectady and transfer to a theater program. In the meantime, he continues to teach at Myers Ballet, which has been opened at limited capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“His teaching skills have just soared,” Myers said. “The students love him. I think part of that has come out of his sensitivity to how he has come up through the ranks. He didn’t start as a young boy like at 6, he started later. So he had to really learn the basics when he was 12. I think that has helped him in his teaching and he’s utilized those skills so he can really communicate them.”
While Rodriguez, along with so many performing artists, misses performing live, he continues to dance whenever he can.
“It’s a constant. It’s always been there. It comes with all of its own unique challenges and everything but they’re such black and white challenges that I can just respect for that simplicity. Anytime that things are just really unbearable I would just run to the studio and dance. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true,” Rodriguez said.