St. Mary Magdalen fifth grader is dance master

Marcel Cavaliere is the kind of kid who finds it impossible to simply walk from Point A to Point B.

The St. Mary Magdalen fifth grader thinks it’s much more fun to get places upside-down, while performing a series of walking handstands.

But that’s just for starters.

The just-turned-10-year-old is also known for his soaring leaps and perfect kicks as a longtime student at Blanchard Dance Center in Kenner in the genres of jazz, tap, contemporary, ballet, hip-hop and lyrical. Marcel’s dancing talents were recognized on a national stage last July when he earned the title of “Master Dance of America 2013” after an 11-day competition in Anaheim, Calif.

“I basically started to dance when my mom put my sisters in dancing class, and I would literally stare at them and look at what the class was doing,” said Marcel, a parishioner of St. Dominic Church who began studying under teachers Denise Schindler and Ellen Hardeman not long after he stopped crawling – at age 18 months. “My dancing teacher saw me moving my hips, so she put me into the class. From from then on, it was history.”

The competition, sponsored by the Dance Masters of America, featured several age groups, including Marcel’s division of boys and girls aged 7-9. In addition to being judged on an original solo dance – in Marcel’s case, a two-minute jazz number – contestants had to submit a resume, undergo an interview with the judges and take part in four separate audition classes in tap, jazz, ballet and acrobatics. Besides winning the overall title of “Master Dance of America,” Marcel earned the top scores in both jazz and his favorite dance form of ballet.

“Ballet is the most technical (type of dance) and the thing you need to move on to different stages in dance,” he explained. “Dancers get their muscles warmed up and their technique through ballet.”

To further hone his skills, Marcel goes to the Tulane University campus to study with the New Orleans Ballet Association on Saturday mornings. Last Christmas he performed the whirling, fast-paced “Russian Dance” in NOBA’s production of “The Nutcracker,” complete with flips – and one mishap.

“There was a hula hoop taped with tissue paper, and I was supposed to jump through it,” he said. “I landed straight on my face, but luckily my arms broke my fall,” said Marcel, who will perform in the NOBA “Nutcracker” again this year and also will have a role in Delta Festival Ballet’s production of the Christmas classic.

Marcel also studies dance through a scholarship with the Broadway Theater Connection, in which professional stage dancers visit the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to give workshops and dance demonstrations. In December, actors connected with the traveling production of “Mary Poppins” will teach a jazz and tap dance from the musical, then watch their students present the dance on the NOCCA stage.

In yet another addition to his dance resumé, Marcel has earned a spot for the fourth consecutive year on “The Stingers,” a squad of 7- to 12-year-old hip-hop dancers that performs during New Orleans Hornets basketball games. He hopes to begin taking NOCCA’s after-school program when he becomes eligible as a sixth grader, and to attend NOCCA for high school, now that it offers students performing arts classes and their a full slate of academic classes in one place.

“He dances in his dance classes, but he dances on his own, too – after he does his homework,” said his mother, Margaret Cavaliere. “He’s dancing until I make him turn off the music; he won’t go to sleep unless I make him.”

Marcel, who came to a first-grade “Career Day” dressed as a tuxedo-wearing dancer, admits he has no fallback career plans in the event professional dancing doesn’t work out.

“My hope for dancing is to be one of those people that you would love to meet after you see them on stage,” he said. “I want to be a role model for people who want to dance.”

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