ST. GEORGE — At age 19, Southern Utah University student Sam Nelson is already supporting himself through his passion: dance.
Nelson has already experienced success as a performer, having appeared on television’s “So You Think Can Dance” in 2019 and as part of a live performance during the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as on NBC’s World of Dance Championships.
Nelson began dancing around the age of 10. He told Cedar City News he tried other sports like basketball and football and even tried his hand at musical instruments.
“I’ve tried every other sport you can imagine,” he said. “I figured out that I have an athletic brain and also an artistic brain, and I was able to combine those two and find a passion in dance.”
Nelson said dance has helped him develop respect for others and pride in his work, adding that dance wasn’t something that was respected by his peers in public high school.
“Once I started realizing that I was able to have some success with dance, I realized that this isn’t something I should hide from other people,” he said. “I should be proud of it. It’s given me a lot of respect for other people, communication skills and social skills.”
After finding out the day after his high school graduation that he had been selected for “So You Think You Can Dance,” Nelson said he decided to move to California.
“I had to leave within two days,” he said. “That’s when I was like, ‘I need to go to California and really go for this.’”
Nelson finished in the top 20 male performers on the show.
He is also currently attending Southern Utah University online, majoring in business management. He said being able to attend college online is what enables him to pursue education alongside his career.
“It’s all about managing my time,” he said. “It’s been a really great experience to be able to continue my education while not having to turn down these jobs that have been offered to me.”
Nelson said furthering his education has always been important to him.
“I never thought that dance would be something that I would be able to support myself with until very recently,” Nelson said. “By that point I had already decided where I wanted to go and what I wanted to study, so it just seemed wrong to put all that aside.”
He said it has been challenging to coordinate both pursuits, but “luckily, because of SUU I’ve been able to do both.”
Nelson is currently a member of a dance company called Embodiment The Collective and works full time as a dancer in Los Angeles while traveling most weekends to teach choreography around the country, which he said gives him a unique opportunity to interact with different people.
“Every weekend it’s a new set of kids — it can be anywhere from four to 800,” he said. “I get to see lots of different dancers, which is really cool because nobody really dances the same. It’s really inspiring to see how everyone moves differently.”
Nelson said investing in his interest at a young age has allowed him to pursue his passion as a career.
“If you have an interest that is unique, don’t ignore it. See where you can go with it,” he said. “Dance has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and luckily because I invested in dance at such a young age, it’s something I can enjoy and do for work.”
Nelson has toured with dance competitions as an instructor, performed in shows and taught dance across the country and won national recognition for his choreography.
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