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Photographs by E.J. Harris
The East Oregonian
April 2, 2011


Parker Blakely has 33 sisters.

That might be news to his mother, Colette, who gave birth to two sons. The girls, you see, are his fellow dancers on Pendleton High School’s Rhythmic Mode Dance Team, which recently brought home its fourth straight state dance title.

Smack in the middle of the action was Blakely, the lone male dancer in a sea of girls. He jumped, spun, glided and pulled off a cool aerial flip. This wasn’t just some guy who joined the dance team just to meet girls. He was good. Crazy good.

When singled out, however, the 15-year-old deflects compliments with a shake of his head. “I’m just one of the dancers,” he says.

And he’s got a point. Every single dancer on Coach Debbie Kishpaugh’s championship squad seemed to have high-voltage talent and energy to match as they performed the dark, pulsating routine with equal measures of technique and passion. Blakely, however, sporting a costume slightly different than the rest, stood out as he flashed around the floor with a deceptive sort of ease gained only by years of training.

Parker sat around a school cafeteria table on a recent afternoon with three of his fellow dancers — seniors Kelsey Cavallo, Lauren Featherstone and Rebecca Kobzeff. The four share the easy camaraderie of siblings who also genuinely like each other.

One moment, the girls praised Blakely for his work ethic, his dance technique and his easygoing personality. The next, they affectionately razzed him. The close relationship is an inevitable byproduct, they say, of the huge amount of time they spend together each week. “We’re around each other more than our own families,” Cavallo said. “We are a family.”

She smiled at Blakely.“He’s like our little brother,” said Cavallo, a member of the 2011 All-State Dance Team.

Blakely grinned.

The teenager isn’t a newcomer to dance. He collided with the sport as a fourth-grader who enrolled in a hip-hop class. The intense world he discovered inside Kishpaugh’s Jr. Jam dance studio clicked with the boy.

“Before that, I’d tried baseball, soccer, golf and swimming,” Blakely said. “My parents always expected us to be in some kind of activity.”

Of all the physical activities, dance was the one that most fit his outgoing personality. He was hooked. “I like being in front of people and showing off,” he said. “Performing comes naturally, and I like being under pressure.”

Blakely’s supportive parents, Kevin and Colette, watched their son’s talent evolve on the dance floor, as well as in their living room and on the backyard trampoline. This year, Parker, determined to add an aerial flip to his repertoire, practiced off a step in the family living room over and over. The move, a cartwheel with no arms, required persistence and led to some crashes.

His mother, only half-joking, said Parker has been dancing since he was in the womb. “It’s his passion,” she said. “He’s constantly in motion. He’s always listening to music. He’s always dancing.”

Those not knowledgeable about dance might be surprised at how much athleticism the activity requires. The latest routine, Parker said, could be compared to a five-minute hurdles race, except with constant directional changes. 

Blakely’s parents attend most every Rhythmic Mode performance, watching their son with enthusiastic pride. They love Parker’s 33 “sisters” and the fact that the school district and Superintendent Jon Peterson are strong supporters of dance.

Male performers like Blakely are less of an oddity in the dance world these days, said Featherstone, even in high school. Many teams have boys on their rosters and some even have male coaches. Boys who are confident enough to enter the traditionally female arena are usually loaded with talent. “They’re stronger. They can jump higher and they’re more flexible,” Kobzeff said. “When guys are good, they’re exceptional.”

Blakely isn’t the first male to dance for PHS — one year, Kishpaugh actually coached four boys. Blakely, she said, works hard to be just another dancer. “He puts his dancing shoes on the same way the girls do,” Kishpaugh said. “He sweats just as hard.”

In his early days, she said, he was sometimes teased by other boys for his involvement in dance. “As a young dancer, he was ostracized,” she said. “I admire him for staying true to himself and continuing to dance — now he’s reaping the rewards.”

Blakely’s coach believes he was meant to dance. “He’s been exceptional,” Kishpaugh said. “He’s got a God-given gift to dance and perform.”

Blakely is only a sophomore, but he’s already toying with the idea of studying dance after high school and plans to attend summer intensive courses at arts colleges to get a taste of the experience.

But first, there are two more seasons at PHS and a championship to defend. Blakely and his three teammates attribute the squad’s powerhouse status to Coach Kishpaugh’s genius with choreography and to UCLA coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” program, which explores integrity, values and ethics. “We’re held to very high standards,” Cavallo said.

Blakely will be there next year with a new move or two, reveling in his role as little brother (or maybe big brother). As time rolls forward, one thing is as certain as the sun rising and the wind blowing.

Parker Blakely will dance.


© Copyright 2011, East Oregonian

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