Manuel Santos Buc Beau

Manuel Santos

Brazoswood Choir Member

Sets Brazoswood Dance History

As First Male Dance Team Member

Sandra Day O'Connor and Amelia Earhart share the same honor as a local trailblazer, a Brazoswood Buccaneer Belle who's closing the gender gap.

Like the first woman Supreme Court justice and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Brazoswood junior Manuel Santos, 17, broke with convention when he became the first male member of the all-girl drill team last fall.

This accomplished dancer had long dreamed of becoming a Belle, or "beau" as he's been dubbed, but shied away from auditioning at the advice of his mother. She worried that her son could become a target for whispers and snickers being the lone male on the 62-member team.

But Santos couldn't be dissuaded. So, Belles director Ronnye Patterson talked over the situation with his mother, who eventually came around. She gave her blessing for her son to try out and join the team so that he could diversify his repertoire. Until then, the dancer was fluent in ballet, jazz, tap and modern, but had little experience with hip-hop and other types of popular dance. Being on the drill team has enriched his dance style and taught him to become part of a team.

"I might not be getting technically better, but I'm getting different styles added to my dancing, and that's a good thing," Santos said.

His polished axles and crisp pirouettes set Santos apart from many of the other dancers and demonstrate his years of training. The Lake Jackson teenager started taking lessons at age 9, and the pastime quickly became one of his lifelong passions.

"My mom told me when I was 3 that I just told her I wanted to be a ballet dancer," Santos said. "It's my passion. I couldn't see myself not doing that."
As a dancer, Santos has elevated the team's energy with his focused drive and willingness to help others, his coach said.

"He's just so full of energy and he just loves what he does," Patterson said.

Santos' passion and talent has other dancers in awe of their beau. In a solo competition last spring, his performance blew away the audience and he captured first place at the regional dance competition.
"It was just like Janet Jackson walked into the auditorium," said senior Sloan Chouest, who is a major on the dance team.

But his fellow dancers' awe extends beyond Santos' technical expertise. Some of them recognize the bravery it takes to be the only male on the all-girl team.

"A lot of guys have told me they respect him a lot to get up there and dance with 60 girls because it's something the community's never seen before. It's a big change for them," said senior Leah McGee, president of Belles' officers.

As strong an asset as Santos is to the team, his membership has brought some changes. The girls no longer use the whole dance room as their changing room like they did in the past. They also have to remember to tone down their girliness from time to time.

"Having a guy come in, you don't go as crazy as you kind of want to sometimes," Chouest said.

The experience also has introduced Santos to the catty side of females. While most of the members welcomed him onto the team, a few expressed their dislike.

One episode in particular hurt his feelings. It was after Santos won the solo competition and audience members were asking for his autograph and to have their picture taken with him. The dancers were loading onto the bus when one team member told Santos, "You're so conceited."

The comment took Santos aback. He didn't know what he had done to offend the girl, he said.

For the most part, however, the good outweighs the bad, Santos said. Most of the girls are comfortable with him on the team, probably in part because of the conscientious efforts that the dance officers and Patterson have taken to make the beau feel included. The director even has spent hours researching dance costumes that allow Santos to blend into the team, but still maintain his masculinity.

"I want him to be a guy, but I want him to be part of the team, and I really want to protect that," Patterson said.

Santos plans to stay on the dance team until he graduates from high school. He's trying to speed up the process so he can follow his dream of performing on Broadway. He's planning on a six-month to one-year stint in New York before perhaps going to college, he said.

In the meantime, his teammates will wait for the day when their beau's name is in lights on a Broadway marquee.

"He will definitely be on a billboard someday, win a Tony," Chouest said. "He's an amazing actor, singer, an amazing dancer. What more can you get? That's what it takes in the show biz world."

The Facts
Story by Bridie Isensee
Photo by Todd Yates
Published October 24, 2004