As Adrian “AJ” De Leon, a senior at Dr. Phillips High School tells it, he had no choice but to become a dancer. “My mom taught dance,” he says. “I’ve basically been dancing since I was in the womb.”
De Leon didn’t start his formal dance education until he was three years old. Now he can do tap, hip-hop, jazz, modern and ballet. And while he might have begun his dancing career at the encouragement of his mother, he has continued it—and added singing and acting along the way—because he loves to bring happiness to others.
In fifth grade, De Leon got what he calls his “first real taste” of the joy of performing when he was cast as a featured tap dancer in the Orlando Repertory Theatre’s A Christmas Story. “It was amazing. I could see these kids in the audience smiling ear to ear. I just loved being able to make people happy by performing,” De Leon says.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic Dr. Phillips High School students were unable to perform for a live audience. Instead, student productions were filmed and shared with the community. “We still gave it our all,” De Leon says. “But it just wasn’t the same as when you get that energy reflected back to you from the audience.”
Driven by his dream to be an actor/singer/dancer, De Leon admits it hasn’t been all roses and applause along the way.
Last year De Leon had to pull back from performing at school due to his grades slipping. During that challenging time, De Leon remembered something his mom said: “When one door closes, another one opens.”
Just when De Leon was looking at a closed door, the Daniel Mills Apprenticeship program showed up. He auditioned and was offered an apprenticeship, allowing him to continue putting smiles on faces.
De Leon says he loves working with Joe Walsh, the artistic director of the Garden Theatre. “I like how Joe has us do check-ins before we start. I find it really helpful to take a beat before getting into performance mode,” De Leon says. Now nearing the end of his senior year, De Leon has improved his grades and continues to get professional performance experience.
Recently De Leon made audition tapes to apply for performing art programs at schools such as University of Florida, Pace University, Shenandoah University, and University of Alabama at Birmingham. In addition to showcasing his dancing, singing, and acting abilities in his audition tapes, he included a “wild card” performance: rapping Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
De Leon says rehearsing for his college audition tapes helped him do more than just learn a new skill. He says it may also help his health. “I have asthma. It’s not really bad,” De Leon says. “But I believe all these years of performing has helped me increase my endurance and stamina. Practicing rapping gave me another way to work on my breathing technique, which I think could one day help put an end to my asthma.”