Nothing stays the same for very long. Everything is bound to change at one point or another; in fact, if there is one thing in my story that stayed the same, it’s that nothing stayed the same.
Rewind to the early 2000’s, my family and I were going through a major transition including moving to a new church. That brought new opportunities, new people, new friends, new everything and as a kid you have that feeling when you first walk in of, “Man, I hope this is good”. And it was! I was in Kids church, I made friends, we did stupid kid things, it was great. Part of the kid’s ministry was choir but that year they added something new: A dance team. I tried out for the team just like I did for choir and went to a meeting with all the other kids who tried out. First, the names of those who had made choir were called, including solo parts, then the dance team was announced. This was the first time I experienced an audition; little did I know it was one of the many to come. Everyone was deathly quiet, and we all had that I’m-going-to throw-up bubbling in our stomachs because of the anticipation. I still remember exactly where I was sitting when they called my name. I stood up and thought to myself, “Oh, cool!” I had absolutely no idea what kind of journey I had just begun.
The leader of the dance team was Mr. Tony. I honestly have no idea what his last name was because to the kids every adult was Mr. or Mrs. and their first name. Mr. Tony was a pretty slick guy, and from what I remember he was cool enough and had enough comebacks to deal with talkative kid-sized me. Then one day he brought in another cool, quick-talking adult that made choreography for us: Fenton Fulgham. He was funny, charismatic, and loud…very loud. Coming from a loud, Hispanic home, my first thought was, “I like this guy”. After he choreographed a dance for us, he gave us his business card and told us that he and a youth pastor from our church (Pastor Kevin) had started Revelation Dance Studio. At that time, I was 11 years old.
I told my mom about Revelation and soon after we went to check it out. It was close to our house so I thought “This is super convenient!” The studio had an exciting and welcoming atmosphere so things were looking up. Until we saw the prices…and for that we had to look way, way up. In the position we were in, we knew we could not afford it. Two long years later, I’m 13 years old and my mom and I are returning to the studio to register. I signed up for their summer camp. After three weeks of summer camp, I joined F-troop—the studio’s competition team (yay!). Of course we were completely new to the dance world, so we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into, but I had officially made another transition: From small church dance team to official competition team.
Revelation was an enormous part of my life. Fenton Fulgham, the choreographer for Revelation, gave me the best foundation I could have asked for and it's strength has lasted me to this day. He taught me to listen to the music and control my body in order to do the intense choreography. The more I danced the more passionate I became. Basically, I never wanted to leave the studio. My passion for dance grew and translated into more than just the choreography, it soon shifted into a mindset. Our competition team taught us to focus on precision and flawlessness in our routines. The work ethic I built from being on F-troop was invaluable. I became team captain my second year on team. With every year that passed, I got closer to my friends at the studio and considered it my second home. Finally, my last year I made it to the highest level on F-troop--Elite. I was thrilled and honored to have made it. We were expected to be an example for all the other teams in dance and in our behavior (No pressure right?). I was a junior in high school and in the middle of the year, God said, “You’re not going to be on F-troop next year.” I was upset and I replied, “What do you mean NOT on F-troop??? F-troop is all I know! Where am I supposed to dance next year??” I’ll take this moment to say that basically every time I say “God said something” it’s usually crazy and involves more transition, but at the same time, more growth. I’d like to say I’m used to it by now…but I’m not. At the same time, I’m glad because that would take all the fun out of it. So, I complied.
A couple of months passed, and I start seeing billboards for AMTC, or “Actors, Models, and Talent for Christ”. It caught my interest and I checked it out. I found out that AMTC is an organization that trains actors, singers, dancers, models, and other talented Christians to go into the industry to be a light for God. I was SO EXCITED. I thought this had to have been what God was telling me a couple months before. I looked up the closest audition date in my area and started preparing. When the day had finally come I was beyond nervous. I auditioned with one of the scouts and he loved it. He said I had a great look for the industry, I had a lot of talent, and that they could really use me in this program. Basically all the things you want to hear at an audition, the only difference was this wasn’t just for a gig. AMTC was the perfect things I needed at that point in my life. Another transition into another challenge.
AMTC was the integration of faith and talent. They believed that the incredible talent people had was God-given. Moreover, that we should be using those talents for Him. The AMTC training was completely different from what I was used to. They taught me about acting for film, improv, hosting for TV shows, and modeling. I was challenged in areas that I was completely unfamiliar with and it was an immense growing experience. My mindset changed from competition to performance, I learned to perform rather than just prepare for competition. Even dancing, the area I was most familiar with, was taken to a higher level through my AMTC dance coach: Tangy Lockman. At this point, it made complete sense why God told me not to be on F-Troop the following year. I believed that AMTC was a perfect fit for me.
Interestingly enough, Tangy Lockman also owned a studio called HipHop Nation and I jumped at the opportunity to join. If there is one word I could use to describe HipHop Nation it would have to be organic. It was like something out of a Step Up movie. It was a warehouse in the middle of nowhere with one room and one small speaker. They all loved it and I came to love it too! They would blast that tiny speaker and enjoy the freedom they had in dance. I loved freestyling and I was pretty good but not as good as Erique, Tyree, Enom and Hans. At HipHop Nation I was surrounded by dancers who were beyond amazing at freestyling, taking their creativity to a professional level, and were not afraid to dive deeper into it. I learned to expand my creativity and push my own boundaries so that I would grow. I was challenged to choreograph and teach for the very first time.
I was still training with AMTC while I was going to HipHop Nation and preparing for Shine, AMTC’s talent showcase. It was an incredible experience to perform my solo in front of an audience of scouts for talent agencies. It was a huge risk as a young performer full of dreams, because you had no idea what the outcome would be. Unless you were me. In my mind I knew exactly what was going to happen! (or at least what I wanted to happen) I was going to perform, get signed by an agent, and move to LA to become a professional dancer. Unfortunately, reality didn’t line up with my wishful thinking. At the end of the Shine conference, I got a callback from the agent I was hoping to get signed with. He gave me the best feedback that I never wanted to hear. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re a good dancer, but you’re being all the guys who are already famous, all the guys who I already work with.” I didn’t show it but that hit me like a ton of bricks. He told me that he didn’t need another Ian Eastwood, Brian Puspos, or Madd Chadd. He said I needed to learn to show who I was as a dancer. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was using him to speak to me about what I needed, not what I wanted. And you know what that means. God speaking equals transition and growth. I didn’t go to LA but I walked away from that experience ready to take on the next challenge. In fact, a few weeks later I felt God asking me if I’m willing to be open to His plan. I said, “Yes, bring on the transition.”
Months later, I realized there’s no point in dancing if I separate my talent from who I am: a Man of God. In fact, God tested me and gave me the opportunity to choose to join Ingredients, a Christian dance company that tours the US ministering to hundreds of people but I chose not to join. Actually, God was setting me up to become a BeatHunter. He took me through all the necessary experiences to develop my dance identity. I learned that until you’re in the moment and you break pass your walls, you’ll never know what it’s like to step off the edge and find a place that you never knew about yourself. This is what I want to do for other dancers. BeatHunter is the womb where your dance identity is birthed.
Watch the Visual BeatHunter Story and follow Joel through
the performances that were part of his journey.