"I literally was dancing for my life," Darius Drooh, 19, says of competing in "Beach Blanket Babylon's" scholarship contest earlier this summer.
"I was, like, working so hard and praying to God: 'Please give me the scholarship - you know I need this scholarship.' "
The pastor's son apparently is on a good footing with his higher power: He won the $10,000.
"When I got it, I was just like: 'I have a future.' It really saved me," Drooh says.
The capper, however, came a few days later when a higher power in San Francisco, former Mayor Willie Brown, lauded Drooh in his Sunday Chronicle column: "Great night at the Beach Blanket Babylon Foundation scholarship competition. They had this kid dancer, the only black kid in the whole deal. He was the closest thing anybody has witnessed to an early version of Rudolf Nureyev. He just electrified the place."
Drooh, 5 feet 3 and 135 pounds, just laughs. "That's crazy. That's so crazy. That freaked me out because Nureyev is pretty bad. That was like, whoa."
Let the record show that "bad," of course, means exceptionally good, and Drooh is clearly both embarrassed and pleased by the comparison. Because the road to the Club Fugazi stage was not easy or clear cut, and he knows he's not done yet.
Drooh is "a once-in-a-career kid - he's that remarkable," says Susan Lofthouse, his counselor and teacher at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, nicknamed SOTA, from which he graduated in May. "His soul and spirit, drive, determination and heart - that's what makes him so remarkable: his perseverance and his heart."
Drooh's childhood is peppered with the two things that would lead him to the stage: dance and scholarships.
Born in San Francisco, Drooh was raised in San Pablo by his mother, who works at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, and his pastor father. At 11, he attended the tuition-free summer AileyCamp at UC Berkeley and decided he wanted to be a dancer. At 12, he received a scholarship to the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. But his attitude then, he says now, was wrong: "I just thought I was God's gift to dance," he says with a laugh. "I thought you were supposed to be fabulous and be a diva 'cause I didn't know any better. But I learned. I learned from that experience."
Elvia Marta, who runs the School of the Arts dance department, never met that cocky young dancer. By the time Drooh auditioned for her, in the summer before his sophomore year, he had run through several East Bay public schools, including Oakland School for the Arts, where he was simply overwhelmed.
Because of a learning difference, he had struggled academically, but at subsequent schools there was other trouble, too: getting beat up. The kid who had studied West African dance with C.K. Ladzekpo at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and hip-hop at New Style Motherlode Dance Studio in Oakland was harassed at school for "acting white."
"People would say to me, 'Oh, you're acting so white' - whatever that means. ... I was different. I was just different," he says matter-of-factly. "And I needed to be around, you know, like, artists."
He set his sights on the arts school across the bay. (Full disclosure: This reporter's daughter attends SOTA, although not in dance.) On his last day in ninth grade at De Anza High School in Richmond, he took BART into the city to turn in his application. And then he waited for an audition date.