“Brandon O’Neal is one of my most beloved sons of DADA (Debbie Allen Dance Academy). He is one of the most talented young performers, dancers, choreographers, actors, and singers that I know. He sings like a bird, dances like a beast, and he is such a wonderful human being! He is a great teacher, his classes are beyond! He has worked with me and assisted me in many projects. I am looking forward to watching him continue to blossom as an artist, teacher and choreographer!” – Debbie Allen
Photographer: Lee Gumbs Photography
Brandon O’Neal – Beyond the Impossible!
In our July 2021 issue of Inside Dance, top booker Brandon O’Neal talks pushing himself beyond what seems possible, while staying true to his super-charged, authentic self.
By Christy Sandmaier
With an extensive résumé that reads like a “Who’s Who” in entertainment and top bookings across the industry, Brandon O’Neal has lived a lot of life already, on stage and off.
The curtain opens on a studio in Knoxville, Tennessee, watching his sister dance. At age 15, the legendary Debbie Allen found him at a workshop in Texas and plucked him from his hometown to train and live in LA. From there, New York City beckoned where he landed a role in Broadway’s The Lion King. He’s never looked back.
On paper, it’s a very common tale – the hometown dancer who comes from humble means and heads to the big city to make it. Along the way, he’s mentored by a superstar, gets his big break in NYC and works alongside the best of the best – Dolly Parton, Misty Copeland, Will Smith, Paula Abdul, Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Janelle Monaé, Miley Cyrus, Billy Porter, Rob Ashford, Marguerite Derricks, and Desmond Richardson, just to name a few, laying a path to stardom and the makings of a legacy.
Had you heard of Debbie Allen before?
I’d heard the name, but I really didn’t know who she was. I only knew about her current credits at the time. She was on a show with LL Cool J called In the House. So, I didn’t know FAME, or really at all who she was!
Of course, summer intensive is expensive and we didn’t have any money. So, that year, I wrote a letter, explaining why I wanted to dance and I got a scholarship. That was in 2002. It changed my life. It was the first time I really saw dance on a man look regal and gorgeous, not flighty, it just looked so masculine. It was like an Olympian level of dance.
Was that the marquee moment? The turning point for you as far as the direction you wanted to take your life?
When I moved back home, I told my mom I’m going to do it, I’m going to go full dance. I went back that same year to that same intensive at the Debbie Allen Dance Institute in Dallas, and got a full scholarship again! This time, she was giving a scholarship to her summer program which I was super, super excited about. I got a full scholarship to her summer program and my mom said “no.”
During that year, I completely changed who I was as a person. I went from a “C” student to an “A” student. That next year, Debbie Allen gave me the same scholarship and my mother let me go. I was 15, and it changed my life.
I moved from Knoxville to LA and went to Santa Monica High School. Debbie Allen was my legal guardian. I went to school from 8am until 3:30pm in the afternoon and trained from 4-9pm every single day. Going to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy was like a conservatory. The best of the best went there. By my senior year, she moved us out of her house and put us in an apartment. It was like a “Real World” before The Real World!
And from there, I knew I needed to spread my wings.
Special Features Also Include:
- My Dance Story
- THE POSITIVE DANCE MOM BLOG By Sarah Schneeweis
- Behind the Mic with Taylor and Alex – 10 Dance Do’s and Don’ts
- Transcending the Conversation, Bringing Mental Health to the Forefront – Danscend Launches to Provide Mental Wellness Resources for Dancers – Former professional dancers and long-time dance educators Michelle Loucadoux and Kristin Deiss have joined forces and experience to bring mental wellness to the forefront of the minds of the dance community by providing a virtual safe space for education and connection for dancers and dance educators.
- Pastry Partners with Janie’s Fund
- Gymnast Turned Dancer Warren Yang
Available in ‘Back Issues’
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