Freshman becomes first boy to join Minnesota school's dance team
The Minnesota State High School League changed its rules, allowing boys to compete on dance teams for the first time starting in 2019. Now 14-year-old Salman Masood no longer has to learn the Austin High School Dance Team's routines in solitude — he's one of the dancers.
AUSTIN, Minn. — Salman Masood started dancing with the Austin High School Dance Team long before anyone else even realized. His older sister Salma was on the team, and Salma would learn her routines while at home, slowly building the skills he would need later on.
Now as a 14-year-old freshman, Salman is competing with the team himself, quietly writing his name in the local history book as the first male dancer to do so. The Minnesota State High School League changed its rules, allowing boys to compete on dance teams for the first time starting in 2019-20.
He no longer has to learn the team's routines in solitude like he once did.
"They were really fun to watch. I used to learn them all," Salman said about his sister's dances. "They were fun to do by myself."
Salman was one of 15 students who descended on school gym Dec. 1 for the jazz team's practice. The teenagers danced to a version of "Vienna" by Billy Joel, which begins with a calm piano intro. Along with the other athletes, Salman spun around on one foot for multiple rotations before transitioning into a leap with his legs splitting in opposite directions.
Later on, he rehearsed a dance sequence where he doubled over backwards, contorting himself in such a way as to make even the most mildly out-of-shape adults gape at the sight.
Assistant coach Alyssa Abrego routinely instructed the students to tweak small details: Chins up everyone, palms out, make sure to keep your toes pointy.
Austin senior and dance captain Nora Tweeten knew of Salman before he joined the team, partly because she danced with his sister.
"She would show us videos of him doing our routines and learning it from home when he was younger," Nora said.
During the second half of practice, an additional cohort of students entered the gym. Jazz was over. It was time for the kick team to rehearse. Salman dances with both groups. The stereo switched from Billy Joel to an intense beat called "Killer Robots" by Barely Alive.
Salman linked arms with his fellow dancers, forming a wall together while kicking their legs well above their own faces with military-like unison. He said the adrenaline is one of the best things about performing.
It's easy to overlook the fact that Salman is "a first" for the high school. With a light frame and a calm demeanor, he doesn't stand out among the cohort of dancers.
If anything, he's added to the group, according to his teammates. One of them, Brenna Tschann, described him as bringing a lot of positivity to the team.
"I feel like it definitely opened possibilities," she said of Salman joining the team. "He brings so much positivity and energy. He's just a great addition to the team."
Dance Coach Kayla Sellers said she wishes Salman would have joined the team during his eighth-grade year rather than waiting until he was a freshman.
The fact that he's the school's first male dancer hasn't escaped him. He worried about the perception a little but decided it didn't matter. Besides, seeing boys compete on other teams helped.
Nor does he come across as boastful about being the first male dancer on the team. It's a fact he acknowledges but doesn't seem to dwell on.
He's just there to dance with his friends.
"I knew I was going to get stares going into it, but I feel like being on the team is better than having (to deal with) people staring at you," Salman said. "I'm proud of myself, and a lot of people are proud of me, so it just makes me feel like a good person."