In the largely monochrome video, there is a lone figure. His movements are light, agile, and graceful, jumping and lunging as a shimmery, translucent blue flag spins and soars around him. There is an ease and confidence in his motions as he paints the emotion of the piece with his flag, sunlight catching in the fabric, the cloth pulsing and billowing with energy. The ease and confidence in his movements, however, are the result of a long journey of perseverance fuelled by a willpower stronger than doubt.
Brandon Karagozian, a sophomore in the classical and contemporary dance conservatory at California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley, was first exposed to dance through colorguard in the eighth grade when he was a part of the marching band at Duarte High School. Captivated by the beauty of the colorguard team, he took a leap of faith and began to do something for himself for once, joining colorguard his freshman year.
He soon found that he could pick up material quickly, learning how to use flags, rifles, and sabers in a short amount of time. After having to learn lyrical, jazz, ballet, and tumbling for colorguard, he began to realize that every good guard group was trained in dance. Motivated, Karagozian decided he wanted to bring that kind of experience to his team, making a promise to himself to fulfill a dream in the best way he could.
He set his mind to a summer ballet dance camp near him. However, at this same time, he was accepted into an internship at the City of Hope and had to make the decision between dance or an internship. Determined to continue what he started, he chose to follow his instincts.
“My mom cried when I told her I was going to dance,” he said. “My family was not accepting of it as well. The question was always, “Isn’t that only for girls?” or “Are you gay?””
Despite his family’s disapproval, he knew what he wanted and had the willpower to achieve it. Cleaning houses and braving the heat as a summer gardener to pay for his dance class, Karagozian had one clear goal in mind and stopped at nothing to get there. For a month, he trained in a small dance studio in Duarte, learning the basics and nuances of ballet from Robinn Titular and her mother. As the new school year approached, he pushed himself once more, taking his ballet teacher’s suggestions and auditioning for CSArts, and eventually making the difficult decision to leave the comfort of his home and family at Duarte High School.
“I was able to find courage in myself through colorguard,” he says. “My colorguard coach, Sarah Peralata, always encouraged me to follow my heart and always said that no matter what decision I make, she would always be there to support me. I also had a very good freshman English teacher, Ms. [Linda] Alfred who supported me through everything and helped me through my journey.”
Now a sophomore in the classical and contemporary dance conservatory, Karagozian still performs with his DHS colorguard family, as well as with the PCC Band and Colorguard in the Pasadena Rose Parade, all while working hard to maintain his grades.
As the only male dancer in colorguard and the only dancer in his Latino-Armenian family, not “macho” and a break in gender norms, he sometimes wonders if he is doing the right thing. But he is growing and getting stronger every day, learning new terms, styles of dances, and movements in conservatory every day.
Coming from a journey of depression, self-harm, and incredible challenges in childhood, Karagozian refuses to let hardships define or control his life. Despite the obstacles he faced, dance helped him realize that with enough willpower comes the strength to endure through difficulties.
Always one to give back, he takes his newfound experience in dance, and coaches others on his colorguard team, offering fresh insight he had acquired. Battling the fears of not being good enough in his conservatory, he learned how to channel his doubts into a motivation that pushed him forward, remembering all those that had supported him and the audience that encouraged him to continue his art.
Though the challenges of being at an arts high school are many, and he often finds himself doing homework in the early hours of the morning after a long day of practices for conservatory and his colorguard, he persists, hoping that one day, his family would accept dance, a passion that has become deeply rooted in his identity.
“I hope my journey in the arts will inspire others to do whatever they want to do and stop letting others decide what’s best for them,” he says. He shares a quote that he lives by: “If its hurting, keep doing it. Do what you think of in your head at night hoping that it will one day come true. Pursue happiness, for happiness just doesn’t find you, you can only find happiness.”
At the end of one of his routines, he catches the flag in both hands and faces front calmly. The piece has ended, but it is evident that his journey has only just begun.