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Steps to dancing greatness

Posted: June 19, 2010 10:13 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Fitzsimmons practices with Cherre at Cherre’s gym.

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Patrick Fitzsimmons had a few bold words for television producer Nigel Lythgoe when he met the “So You Think You Can Dance” mastermind a few years back.

“I’m going to be on your show,” he told the producer of FOX’s hit dance competition.

There’s just one problem: the minimum age to audition is 18. But the 11 year-old, who was 9 when he approached Lythgoe, is confident that he has what it takes to eventually become America’s favorite dancer. 

After all, he’s already shared dozens of stages with some of the industry’s best and was featured as a break dancer on a Taco Bell commercial. 

The motivated and witty young man is also on his way to the famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy, operated by the Russian American Foundation in New York. For the second consecutive year, Patrick was chosen from thousands of hopeful dancers.

“It means another great honor,” Patrick said. “Teachers come from Russia to teach kids. They don’t want to waste their time.”

After he returns, he will participate in his fifth season at iHollywood Dance, an intense five-day summer dance camp featuring instruction from world renowned choreographers, dancers and teachers.

He’ll train in lyrical, jazz, contemporary, tap, hip-hop and ballroom. And that’s just fine with Patrick, because he wants to “do it all.”

“There aren’t as many dancers who do it all, and I feel like I want that challenge,” he said.

Inspired by the greats
Patrick has been training in gymnastics since he was 3 years old. But at age 4, he saw a magazine cover that brought a new role model into his life: Mikhail Baryshnikov, often referred to as the world’s best living ballet dancer.

“I saw the picture and said, ‘I want to do ballet,’” Patrick said.

He’s danced through a slew of schools and academies such as Studio 1 Dance Academy in Santa Clarita and Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City.

He’s currently at Edge Performing Arts Center, where he is one of few youngsters, he said.

Patrick admits that he is sometimes intimidated by the famous dancers and choreographers with whom he interacts.

But then he shakes it off and soaks up the learning experience.

Patrick was one of the youthful inspirations behind iHollywood’s junior program. He was one of the youngest dancers who signed up for the program in its inaugural year, leading program directors to create a 12-and-under program the following year.

Executive Director Rey Barcena said he was impressed when Patrick performed a solo that he had choreographed by himself.

“I didn’t start doing anything like that until I was 17 or 18,” Barcena said. “With Patrick, it’s not just his talent as it is his passion for dance that really sets him aside from the rest of the group.”

While Patrick spends much of his time training in the junior program, he has no reservations about popping into the senior room for some mentorship from all-star dancers such as Travis Wall or Nick Lazzarini.

The senior choreographers and dancers know and love him, Barcena said.

“I learn lots from them; like a kid and their sensei,” Patrick said, referring to a Japanese title to address teachers or other authority figures — a reference that Patrick retrieved from “The Karate Kid.”

As he worked his way up the talent ladder, Patrick began to gain a sense of his potential. He begged his mom to find him an agent.

At first, Lauri Fitzsimmons resisted. She had worked in talent agencies before and hesitated at tossing Patrick into the system. 

But her persistent son led Fitzsimmons to sign Patrick up on a talent agency website. He was cast for the first commercial he auditioned for, although it never aired.

Fitzsimmons said the casting director encouraged her to find Patrick an agent.

A few months later, Patrick had an agent and an opportunity to show off his break dance moves on the Taco Bell commercial.

Confident, but humble
Patrick was born 13 weeks premature.

He was “the size of a beanie baby,” his mother said, and doctors were not sure how long he’d survive.

Eleven years later, Patrick is aware that he has much to be thankful for.

“I’m only 11, and all these miracles came out,” he said. “I’m here today doing all the crazy things I do.”

Patrick’s demeanor demonstrates a balanced attitude of assuredness in himself and humility. 

“God’s been helping me pretty much throughout my whole life,” he said. “He’s helped me do everything I can do today.”

Though he hasn’t heard any criticism from his peers yet, Patrick said he imagines that, at some point, he will have to deal with gender stereotypes.

“As a stereotype, guys are hip hop and break dancing, and girls do ballet,” he said. “Jerky kids say to boys who do ballet: “Why are you doing ballet?” It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will.”

Breaking that stereotype — or at least, a perceived stereotype — is part of the challenge for Patrick.

“I’m very excited to be one of those guys that does something that a lot of guys don’t understand,” he said.

New flips and challenges   
Patrick is following five generations of performers before him. But he’s also carved his own path, leaving a unique footprint in a family line of actors and comedians.

“I want to make a new generation of dancers in the family tree,” he said.

Following his mother’s example, Patrick has plans to pursue stand-up comedy in the future.

And, of course, he will continue to push his dancing to the next step, or flip. He has returned to training in gymnastics at Hugo’s gymfitness in Santa Clarita.

If he’s going to be anything like Baryshnikov, Patrick knows he must continue to push his training.

“I wanted to learn to do flips and kip ups,” he said. “It’s something to add to this long journey of the dance world.”

Gymnastics instructor Hugo Cherre believes Patrick’s success in dance started with his gymnastics training.

Gymnastics not only trains the body in flexibility and fitness, but it also encourages motivation, Cherre said.

“I’m so proud of (Patrick),” Cherre said. “He’s taking the leap for dancers, and he’s so young. He’s a leader now.”

He may win America’s vote one day as the best “all-around” dancer, but Patrick still clings to his ballet dreams. He pictures himself in 10 years performing at the American Ballet Theatre.

It always comes back to his hero, Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“He is a genius,” Patrick said. “I’m trying to work my way to genius-ness.”

 

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