Swantner shines on Star Dance squad

Natalie Cullen and Izzy Rejino


Natalie Cullen

LEAP OF FAITH: Rocking his Taylor Swift sweatshirt, JV Star Dancer Luka Swantner leaps into the air. According to Ella Knudsen, Swantner’s friend, Swantner first got the chance to pursue his dance passion at tryouts during the summer of 2020.

Kate Davis, Dispatch Reporter

Junior overcomes adversity and challenges on his journey to make dancing a career

Walking off the field with his head held high, JV Star Dancer junior Luka Swantner’s adrenaline wears off quickly as the Austin High football fans begin to verbally harass him. 

They shout disparaging words at him. Teasing him about being a boy participating in a girls sport.

He shrugs it off, like he does every time this happens. What those people shout at him doesn’t bother him. Swantner uses those moments to motivate, not to deter.

“It’s really hard,” Swantner said. “They just say negative comments, they just say hurtful things. So we perform and everything and they decide to call me, call me words that are, I can’t get into right now. They were just really disrespectful about it.” 

In his freshman year, Swantner decided he wanted to become a dancer after watching the Silver Stars 2019 Fall Show. Swantner practiced alone daily to prepare for the dance team tryouts that upcoming April, where he would make the team and become the only male dancer on either drill team at Bowie.

 “I was just so proud of myself,” Swantner said. “I just made a whole dance team without even going to a whole studio.”  

Though he hasn’t been training long, Swantner has always taken an interest in dance, being enticed by its beauty and athleticism. 

“He never really got a chance to pursue it, until the summer of 2020,” Swantner’s friend Ella Knudsen said. “But I definitely think he’s always been interested in it. It’s always been kind of a secret passion of his.” 

Other team members on the Star Dancers said that the team camaraderie isn’t heavily affected by having a male on the team, but Swantner emphasizes that it can be isolating at times. 

“I think that dancing with girls, it’s kind of terrifying,” Swantner said. “You don’t see yourself fitting in just because of the way you look.”

Body shaming is a common issue in the dance industry and Swantner is not without his own experiences. His frustration with body shaming is more directed towards the dance industry as a whole rather than focusing on his own experiences. 

“Not everyone has to be the same way,” Swantner said. “Every dancer has a special thing inside of them, they are a dancer and they will always be a dancer.”

Swantner expressed hope that other dancers maintain their indifference, and don’t let negativity impact them or their dancing. 

“I think that a lot of dancers are judged by each other,” Swantner said. “I think that every single dancer is just their one special way, they are their own special dancer, they don’t always have to look at other dancers, they don’t always have to try to be other dancers.”

Dancers are often described to be either masculine or feminine, however, Swantner aims to break the norm, proving that dancers don’t have to be defined by a singular, gender-based label. 

“A male dancer can be feminine, at the same time as being masculine,” Swantner said. “I like to mix them both.” 

Though he didn’t make the varsity team at the following tryouts, Swantner is seeing significant improvements in his confidence needed to work towards his future in dance.

“I still had a lot of motivation, which made me get better over the summer, which made me realize that, oh my gosh, I am starting to get better, I’m starting to see that I’m getting close to their levels,” Swantner said. “My professional dance teachers are telling me they are really positive that I can make it next year.”

JV Star Dancer’s co-director Leanne Bilnoski confirms Luka’s positive contribution to the team and her hopes for him.

“We really love having him in the dance program. He is a bright light in class and a great addition to the team,” Bilnoski said. “We’re excited that he has an opportunity to dance in high school.”

Aside from the isolation that comes from being the only male dancer, Swantner has also experienced adversities and losses in his social life, due to a new bustling schedule. 

“It wasn’t really me losing friends, it was me losing distance from them, and communication which made it more difficult to balance my dance life and social life,” Swantner said. “Eventually it just turned into me losing some friends but then gaining some dance friends.”

Despite the constant temptations to go back to his relaxing, pre-dance life, Swantner has managed to keep his priorities straight.

“It makes you lose some things you have,” Swantner said. “It makes you realize, oh wow, if these people are waiting, and if [dance] isn’t going to wait, then I know what I need to do, I just need to keep doing dance because that’s my priority.”

Through the negativity, Swantner has realized that his goals aren’t going to make sense to everyone. 

“People question why I’m dancing and why I’m on a drill team in a high school,” Swantner said. “It’s kind of different, and people just, I guess some people just don’t accept that.” 

Swantner understands that the backlash has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the perpetrator, expressing that it’s likely due to their own insecurities. 

“I feel like the reason they do that is because they don’t have the amount of courage and the amount of strength to do what I’m doing now,” Swantner said.

Regardless of these experiences, Swantner has hope that the stigmatization of male dancers and the dance industry, in general, can come to an end. 

“They can’t see that being a boy on a dance team is different, it’s not always the same, it’s never going to be the same,” Swantner said. “If we all just learn to accept it, it will eventually get there.”

The Silver Stars program has been very effective in preparing and exciting Swantner for his future.

“We get taught by seniors and juniors who are literally going to be having a dance career someday,” Swantner said. “It’s really cool to see that that could be me next year.”

Swantner is working towards his goals through countless hours in the dance studio, improving his technique and learning life lessons. 

“The chance to be on that dance team has taught him a lot of teamwork and cooperation,” Knudsen said.

Swantner’s teammate Sierra Zellers backs up Knudsen’s statement, attesting to his undying positive attitude. 

“He makes the team a lot more fun,” Zellers said. “It’s not super, strictly drill. It’s like he brings some fun into the team.”

Swantner’s daily schedule is busy, which includes 4 hours of dance practice. Due to this motivation, Swantner has goals for a dance career in the future and is excited to achieve said goals. 

“One of my dance goals is actually getting a major in dance and a minor in teaching so I can actually be a dance director at a high school,” Swantner said. “Another thing I would like to do for a side job is perform in background videos and music videos from famous artists, go on tour with them hopefully just perform, one of my main goals.” 

Swantner’s friends and team members acknowledge his bravery for being a male dancer, highlighting his indifference to the negativity he receives.

“They always say that I’m really special in that I have a lot of courage and I have a lot of motivation towards [dance] because they say, wow you’re so brave and bold for actually being a boy dancer and not caring what other people think, because that’s what I do,” Swantner said. “I love performing, I don’t care what other people say or think about me dancing. It’s just something I really like and enjoy.” 

So despite all the backlash, adversity, and time that goes into dance, Swantner keeps his leaps flying high and his head held higher.

“So this is just me,” Swantner said. “Not caring about what other people say, not caring about what other people think, it’s just me trying to get somewhere I believe I can be.”