When the other members of Butler’s Class of 2021 ask Darius Hickman what he did this summer, he’ll have a story that starts with, “I was a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance.”
The incoming first-year Dance major from West Palm Beach, Florida, dazzled the judges and audience with this audition and so far has made it through the first three rounds. (The competition, which airs Mondays at 8:00 PM on Fox TV, is ongoing as this is being written.) In this summer’s “All-Star” edition of the Fox TV show, the Top 10 dancers are paired with stars from past seasons who guide them as they vie for America’s votes and the title of America’s Favorite Dancer. So far, Hickman has made it to the round of 20.
“I was always really into the show, but I never thought about auditioning,” Hickman said. “You have to submit an online video, and then they tell you if you can come and audition in person. So I did that.”
He didn’t get a response, so he went to an open audition in Los Angeles and stood in line for six hours to get a shot.
Hickman said what viewers are seeing now is the result of seven years of work. After a difficult early childhood—his mother was imprisoned for drugs; his father was absent; he was raised by an aunt who was in an abusive relationship—he started dancing in the sixth grade because “I wanted to do a sport, something, like all my friends did.”
He started with hip-hop lessons, which led him to a performing-arts middle school. The first day of middle school dance training was his first full-length ballet class.
“It was a little overwhelming, for sure, because I was frustrated,” he said. “I didn’t have the skills to keep up. It was hard for me to pick up combinations, and I was not very flexible—I couldn’t even touch my knees well. It was a struggle, for sure.”
But he persevered, and by eighth grade Hickman decided that he liked the challenge. In the months before high school, he took his first summer intensive—concentrated classes during school break—at the Harid Conservatory, a ballet professional-training school for high-school age students located in Boca Raton. That, he said, prepared him for high school at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, from which he graduated in May.
Hickman hadn’t planned on going to college, but at the South Florida College Dance Fair he met Butler Dance Professor Marek Cholewa, who was teaching a class.
“I fell in love with his class, everything about it,” Hickman said. “I want to be taught like this. He talked to me after class and told me to come to Butler to audition, so I went to Indiana to audition.”
“We had a good chemistry,” Cholewa said. “His talent was very clear.”
And now, Hickman is Butler bound.
Cholewa said Butler Ballet audiences will see a young man with the right combination of focus and physical abilities, and “we can develop that even further.”
“I was very impressed when I saw him for the first time in Boca Raton,” Cholewa said. “He was able to follow everything that I said, which is very tough. He doesn’t know me, and I’m teaching my way, which is unknown to him, and he was grabbing the material very quickly. I’m glad he’s coming to Butler, and I’m sure he will be very good and very successful by the end of his four years with us.”