Eddy Ocampo attended his 20-year reunion from Argo Community High School in September and easily was named the Most Changed.
At Argo, located in south suburban Summit, Ocampo was a 5Ɖ' 200-pounder. He liked break-dancing back in the day and now admits, 'Even as big as I was, I learned how to spin on my back.'
Now 38, Ocampo is the picture of athleticism, a 5Ǝ' 150-pounder with, oh, less than five percent body-fat. Oh yeah, he's still dancing, just to more hip styles.
In fact, he's developed into an exceptional professional dancer who now is an award-winning choreographer and master teacher of the art. Just consider Ocampo's resume:
— Won the Dance Chicago 2004 Outstanding Choreography Award.
— Won the 2005 Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation Outstanding Choreographer Award.
— Inducted into the Filipino Hall of Fame in 2005 for his work as a dance teacher.
— Won the Leo's International Choreography Event at the Harris Theatre this past August, selected from over 200 applicants worldwide.
— He will be working with several dance companies next spring, including the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and Odyssey Dance Theatre in Salt Lake City.
— Won the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble National Choreography Competition in Detroit in July.
— He teaches locally at the Lou Conte Dance Studio and Visceral Dance Chicago.
'I guess I'm doing OK,' he said modestly. 'I never imagined that I'd be a professional dancer, nor that I would become a professional choreographer and a master teacher who people actually want to hire. It blows me away everyday and I'm grateful for it, especially in a difficult industry.'
Dance was not his initial interest. He was accepted into medical school after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago back in 1993, but that's when his dance career kicked off.
Ocampo actually started dancing in college, in a course called Modern Dance. 'I thought it [ would be ] like the dancing in the clubs and thought it would be fun. But it was totally not what I thought it was going to be,' he said.
Ocampo had a teacher at UIC who pushed him toward dance because she saw the talent he possessed.
'Dancing, I think, was my destiny. It was like the shoe that fit,' he said. 'But dancing was difficult at first; I had to persevere.'
His first professional gig was with the Augusta Opera, then in a musical at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook. 'I remember thinking, 'Man, we get paid to do this,'' Ocampo said.
He eventually started an apprenticeship at the River North Chicago Dance Company, then landed at the Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago.
Ocampo danced for Giordano for seven years before retiring in 2003, and then moving into full-time choreography and teaching.
'I definitely have some fond memories [ of my dance career ] . I had some great, great stuff happen,' he said. Being a professional dancer, 'is a hard life, but a very fulfilling one. There's not a lot of money in dance and no one expects to be in it for the rest of their lives because, well, it's difficult to make a living at it.
'But it's a lot of fun.'
Ocampo, who was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in Lakeview, has been an independent teacher and choreographer for the past four years.
'I have done some really great stuff in my short independent choreography career, so I'm not complaining,' he said. 'I do enjoy it, though it can be stressful at times.'
Ocampo is an integral part of Dance Chicago 2007, running Nov. 2- Dec. 2 at the Athenaeum Theatre ( 2936 N. Southport Ave. ) . He'll be a choreographer for the event and also return to his roots—as a dancer.
'Dance Chicago is a venue for me to create new work,' he said.
Ocampo teaches dance at the Forum Jazz Dance Theatre in northwest suburban Libertyville, where he has been for eight of the company's 10 years. The group recently performed at the University of Arizona—and Ocampo was the choreographer for the gig.
Ocampo, who is gay and single after a 14-year relationship, said dance 'definitely has a high percentage of gay men in the industry.'
'I think you have to be really in touch with your feminine side to be a dancer, though some might disagree with me on that,' he said.
Getting To Know … Eddy Ocampo
Age: 38. Hometown: Chicago ( Lakeview ) .
Also has lived in: Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Ocampo on the popular dancing TV shows, such as Dancing With Stars: 'I like them. They have really elevated dance in this country.'
In the future: 'I want to create a huge body of work, and then disappear and never be seen from again.'
On losing about 50 pounds and sculpting his physique: 'The dancing really helps. Plus, when you have to wear shiny lycra on stage, you learn how to drop the weight because shiny lycra doesn't lie.'