Vargas makes history and major impact

He is the first male Blue Brigade dancer in school history, but his first year as a Mac dancer has shown that Matthew Vargas is much more than just a trailblazer


Dave Winter

Freshman Matthew Vargas, freshman Georgia Dover, and sophomore Tosh Arora perform “Love,” choreographed by Olivia Chacon. Each year the emerging ensemble work with Chacon to learn Flamenco. “It was a completely different dance for me,” Dover said. “The dance was really emotional so I got to show a lot of how I was feeling.” Photo by Dave Winter.

Lindsey Plotkin, Mac Photojournalism

Matthew Vargas is not a typical McCallum freshman. While he is involved in many activities at McCallum, like the McCallum Christian Community where he is a student leader, he has found his McCallum home in the dance program and on the Blue Brigade.

“Dancing has allowed me to be myself and has given me something I’ve fallen in love with,” said Vargas, who has been dancing since he was 7 years old. “I can’t imagine what my life would be without it.”

Vargas’s sister gave him the idea of joining drill team, when she was on the Austin High Red Jackets in high school, and joining the drill team is just what Vargas did.

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Dancing has allowed me to be myself and has given me something I’ve fallen in love with. I can’t imagine what my life would be without it.

— Matthew Vargas

Matthew’s teammate Isabelle Baird remembered his tryout to make the team.

“Matthew was so amazing it was unbelievable,” Baird said. “It was obvious he was going to get in from the beginning.”

Vargas didn’t just make the team. He made Blue Brigade history by becoming the first male dance the squad has every had.

Vargas also is a dance major in the Fine Arts Academy. Vargas originally heard about McCallum’s dance and fine arts program from a senior friend. Since McCallum was the only specialized fine arts school in Austin, Vargas decided to continue his dance education in the Fine Arts Academy.

On top of being in the Fine Arts Academy and on Blue Brigade, Vargas also dances six days a week at Ballet Austin. “Sometimes, juggling two dance programs can be hard, but I always try to make it work even if it stresses me out,” Vargas said. “It can get confusing towards the end of the year when I have three shows at the same time, and I am trying to balance all of the rehearsals with each other.”

Matthew Vargas and his Blue Brigade mates. Photo courtesy of Andrea Paredes.

Vargas dances with two other boys at McCallum and six other boys at Ballet Austin. Sometimes feeling like he has to work harder to do some elements; he said that he feels especially challenged in his partnering class at Ballet Austin, because there aren’t very many boys in the class.

While Vargas feels like he sometimes struggles with dance elements, the harder struggle comes outside of the studio when he encounters people who don’t think that boys should be dancers. Even though there are few boys at Ballet Austin, they use each other as a support system and talk to each other about some of these issues.

“Some things can be harder, not for dancing, but some things can be harder socially because people don’t think that a boy should be on a drill team or should be just a dancer in general,” Vargas said. “That’s just the main struggle, but it’s high school now and people are more mature and they are more accepting.”    

Joining Blue Brigade was a new challenge that Vargas knew he was ready for.

“When I first joined,” Vargas said. “I was kind of nervous because I was the first boy and I didn’t know how things would change, but it is really fun, and I’ve enjoyed my first year on the team.”

Vargas said that he felt accepted by the girls, and when he first met them, they really wanted him to come to McCallum and try out for Blue Brigade.

Vargas’s favorite part about being on the team is the competitions that they attend because he enjoys learning new dances, competing and winning awards. Vargas enjoyed a lot of competitive success  during the team’s competition season. The team competed in two American Dance/Drill Team competitions.

Dave Winter
WHAT A (ROAD) TRIP: Matthew Vargas wowed the crowd with a reprise of his award-winning competition routine at the Blue Brigade spring show, “Road Trip: On the Road Again,”on April 20 in the MAC. Hosted by JB Faught and Jack Switzer, the show featured senior solos and a mixture of encore and original routines. Photo by Dave Winter.

Vargas’s solo, “Praying,” won first place at the competition at East View High School on Jan. 27, and he placed second on Feb. 24 at the competition at Vandergrift High School.

After being chosen as one of the team’s social officers for 2018-2019, Vargas continued his competitive success this past weekend at American Dance/Drill Team Officer Camp in Rockwall. Vargas was one of four Blue Brigade dancers to be named to the All-American Dance Company and one of seven to be named All-American Dancers.

Vargas was also selected to perform a duet before the entire camp during guest choreographer Kristen Sudeikis’s master class. In the class, Sudeikis covered hip hop and contemporary dance and stressed the importance of being humble and working hard. After spending 30 minutes teaching a routine to the entire class, Sudeikis selected two students to perform the routing based on how well they demonstrated attentiveness, discipline and technique. Vargas was one of the featured dancers.

It was an amazing moment to be able to perform in front of about 300 dancers attending the camp, Vargas said. I was so happy with how it went.

While Vargas enjoys the thrill of competing and performing, he also said the camp was special because he was able to bond with his fellow Blue Brigade officers. Vargas survived a tryout process that included a motivational game and a yearly calendar challenge in order to be selected as one of the social officers for 2018-2019.

His fellow officers and Blue Brigade teammates and his coach say that Vargas’ attitude is just as impressive as his moves on the dance stage.

“I like watching him dance, but he’s also just a really nice person in general so he’s just really fun to be around.” said Ellie Stites, who served the Brigade this past year as a junior lieutenant Ellie Stites. “He’s very approachable, and humble about his talents which is really nice, and he’s also just a nice person.”

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[Matthew] is always working to improve himself, and he doesn’t care what other people think.

— Isabelle Baird

Blue Brigade director and coach Nancy Honeycutt-Searle likes how positive he is and how he pushes the team to step up to his level, and how hard he works.

His teammates agreed.

“Matthew never complains about anything drill team,” sophomore Lily Stimmel said. “Even when everyone is sore and exhausted, somehow he still has loads of energy rushing through him.”

“He is always working to improve himself,” Baird said, “and he doesn’t care what other people think.”

He does care, however, about his role on the team. He aspires to become a dance officer, and then be captain his senior year. He took a step toward that goal when he was named one of team’s social officers for his sophomore year.

Vargas said he respects Coach Honeycutt-Searle a great deal.

“She is a very good drill team director and coach and she is very together and gets things done,” Vargas said. “She makes sure that our dances look good and that the team as a whole works.”  

Vargas poses with choreographer and guest master class teacher Kristen Sudeikishis, American Dance/Drill Team owner Joyce Pennington and his duet partner after the two dancers performed the routine they learned for the entire camp of 300 dancers.

He mentioned another woman as being supporting and critical to his success.

“My biggest supporter and inspiration is definitely my mom,” Vargas said. “She is always there for me and she makes sure that no one will ever say or do anything to me that will make me lose my love for dance. She’s just the strongest woman I know.”

Vargas doesn’t recall many times where he was bullied for being a dancer, but he does recall a couple times in elementary school. He feels, however, that there is a more accepting attitude towards male dancers now.

“I feel like the older everyone gets,” Vargas said. “The more mature we are, and boys being dancers is becoming a more common thing.”

Vargas’s advice for any younger boys who want to dance is to give it a shot.

“Just do it and if you get judged,” Vargas said. “Don’t let it get to you because dance is really fun.”

While Vargas was the first boy on Blue Brigade, he made himself known to the people around McCallum, and many drill team dancers from around Austin and Texas.

“My favorite part of being a dancer is being able to do something that pushes me hard and causes me to be more responsible,” Vargas said.

— with reporting by Harper Cummings