Guam to Portland: UP’s first male dancer is making waves
Sports > Guam to Portland: UP’s first male dancer is making waves

Guam to Portland: UP’s first male dancer is making waves

Josiah Duenas is a trailblazer for dance here at UP

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Josiah Duenas was in third grade when dance consumed his body. At a Fiesta with his family, familiar dance tunes filled up the room — “The Electric Slide” and “Cupid’s Shuffle” to name a few. Duenas sat in his chair dancing by himself. His mother noticed this and suggested he go join everyone on the dance floor. 

“Everyone was just like, in shock, with how fast and natural I was with the beats and the moves,” Duenas said. 

With his informal début as a dancer, his Nina — a term of endearment for godmother —  suggested to his mother that he be enrolled into a dance studio. Duenas was enrolled at Guam’s SKIP Entertainment Dance Company and continued to cultivate his love of dance through the styles of commercial hip hop and jazz. 

Duenas is currently the only male on the Pilots Dance Team and the first in recent memory, according to head dance coach Katie Mitchell Franz. When he enrolled as a first year nursing major at the University of Portland, he knew he wanted to keep dance a part of his life. 

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

His energy on and off the court hasn't dwindled since auditions — a day packed to the brim with high expectations.

The audition process is composed of six hours of warm up on top of learning choreography for a jazz and hip hop routine, across the floor exercises showing their technical skill and performing the routine in small groups to a panel of judges. Duenas faced the tiring day with a bright smile. 

Angela Wipfler, Pilots Dance Team co-captain, saw the passion for dance Duenas had from the start.

 “On audition day, we all knew [that] this guy's got it,” Wipfler said.

She described the positive energy he brought to the floor combined with his impressive dance abilities and coach Mitchell Franz expressed the same sentiments. 

“ … it's clear that he was or is a very talented performer,” Mitchell Franz said. “ … he's really fun to watch as well. You can tell that he's just loving what he does.”

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

While it had seemed like the audition process went smoothly for Duenas, the road to the audition for Duenas was not without its hurdles. Being a new student in a new place is hard enough, let alone becoming a trailblazer in the process. 

Duenas turned to his support system to help calm his nerves. Before auditions, he called his mom after being unsure if he should try out.

"I [told her] 'I'm looking through their feed and I don't see a guy at all,’" Duenas said. "And then she [said] 'Just do it. Just be yourself.’"

At the auditions, he was intimidated by the flexibility and technical skills of his peers, but was met with warmth throughout the audition process. 

“The most technical dancers, they will still help you, support you, welcome you, with such open arms,” Duenas said. “ … it just warms my heart to be a part of them.”

His courage quickly paid off as he was offered a place on the team. This was not only an opportunity for him to find a community bonded by dance at UP, but also to grow as a dancer.

Duenas explained that the Pilot Dance Team’s style is a lot more technical than he was used to. The tempo was an added challenge as it didn’t align with what he had done in the past  back at his home company in Guam. Rather than shrinking at these challenges, he met them with energy and effort. 

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

His time with the dance team has exposed him to jazz and various other styles of dance. Growing not only as a dancer, Duenas has had opportunities to explore another passion of his, choreographing.

His former dance choreographer from SKIP contacted him when he found out Duenas was in Portland. Duenas was invited to spend the week of fall break with him in Los Angeles to learn more about choreography at the dance club, Club Jeté. This opportunity allowed Duenas to expand his network within the dance world and experiment with his style of dance. 

He has since choreographed three solo pieces in the past month, and is actively posting dance content to his social media accounts. 

Dancing solo has helped Duenas cultivate skills that embolden him to contribute to the Pilots Dance Team.

“It's the energy and what you bring when you're not dancing,” Wipfler said. “To the conversations … and what you do during the times we're not performing [is what] makes a big difference and shows a lot of your character. He was nothing but positive and nice.” 

“He's also just so much fun to have at practice.” Mitchell Franz said, “He brings a lot of joy and levity, which is great. So I really appreciate that about him.” 

Duenas’ ability to go “full out” — giving his all to the dances he performs — is just as much about character as it is about ability. 

Duenas did not let being the only male dancer on the team impede him in any way, and it was not as drastic of a change as one might think for the team. 

“I would say there's really no difference” Mitchell Franz said, “ … the biggest change [was having] to get him different uniforms. Otherwise, the experience has been very similar.” 

The athletic department was very quick to get Duenas the uniforms he needed so he could perform without any difficulty. 

Duenas is passionate about wanting to show that gender shouldn't dictate who is considered a dancer or welcomed into a team.

“I want to not only influence people but show that male dancer’s are here to be like any other dancer,” Duenas said. “We're here to perform. We're here to show our passion and we're here to do what we love.” 

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Duenas wishes to be an example to young boys watching in the audience that they too can dance on that court after facing stereotypical prejudices when he first started dancing. He hopes to show that there is more than one way to express masculinity.

Aside from inspiring more diversity in the world of dance, Duenas knows that dance will continue to be present with him throughout his life. Along with a career in nursing, he envisions traveling the world to expose himself to even more styles of dance, and to work with celebrities as a choreographer or backup dancer.

As for the present, he knows that the Pilots Dance Team will prepare him well and provide lifelong friendships along the way.

“My dancers are extremely hardworking,” Mitchell Franz said. “We practice multiple times a week and on top of that we're performing and dancing and cheering games per week too. So this is a huge time commitment. My team works really hard to be the best that they can be on the court and they're really strong athletes on top of being fun performers.” 

Duenas juggles his various academic, social and athletic responsibilities by finding camaraderie on the team.

“The team [has] these bonding moments when we get around a circle and just talk about what's going on in our lives,” Duenas said. “They really do help us to connect and also relieve our stress and let us be heard [so] we're not alone.” 

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

While performing at the Gonzaga game, the bond between the dance team is evident. The cohesion and effort they display at performances shows that they are not only there to perform but that they are also indulging in their love for dance.

Duenas is an extension of that being the newest addition to a team and tries to make any sporting event, regardless of the result, a whole lot brighter.

Noah Carandanis is a news reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at