A late-blooming dancer who chased his dream from Pickerington to New York City will return to central Ohio this month when his all-male comic ballet company performs at the Ohio Theatre.
Duane Gosa, a 2004 graduate of Pickerington High School Central, didn't grow up immersed in theater and ballet.
Like many of his male peers, he tried a variety of sports, encouraged by his father, Duane Gosa Sr.
He also played trumpet in his high school marching band and watched with envy as a number of his female friends showed off dancing and choreography skills in Central's color guard.
That's when he took a chance that led to a new-found love.
"I had a bunch of friends in the color guard and I ended up trying it," Gosa said. "I was the first guy in the color guard in Pickerington, and that's the first time I got involved in dance."
Again encouraged by a friend, Bethany Hudak, Gosa auditioned and was accepted for a performing arts program at the Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools his junior year, at the age of 16.
He continued dancing at the University of Akron and got his first job as a professional dancer with the acclaimed Jennifer Muller/The Works, an international contemporary dance company, just before graduating college.
In summer 2013, Gosa joined Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a New York City-based, all-male company founded in 1974 that's since traveled the world, setting out to show ballet can be equal parts classical beauty and irreverent comedy.
He'll return to Columbus with the Trocks on Feb. 28 when the company performs in the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St., as part of CAPA's ongoing performing arts series.
"It's really amazing," Gosa said. "I believe if you really put yourself toward something and be open to change, things will happen for you.
"This is my first time performing in Columbus since high school, and I'm pretty excited," he said.
"I have so many friends I haven't seen since high school and it's special to share something I've been doing so long."
In addition to Hudak, who nudged him toward dancing, Gosa credited his mother, Linda Coleman, for supporting his interests. In New York, he said he receives ongoing support from former Central classmate and now roommate, Marilyn Duellman.
Now 31, Gosa also said former Central color guard director, the late Tim Justice; former Central English teacher Susan Turley; and Gale Levan, his dance instructor at Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools, were profound influences.
"Tim Justice was one of my biggest supporters and I'm sad he's not here," Gosa said. "Susan Turley really opened my eyes to the possibilities of a creative career.
"Gale Levan recognized my gift," he said.
"That was the first time someone pulled me aside and said, 'Listen, you've got something great.' I really appreciate that."
Levan called Gosa "an exemplary human being," but said she had to steer him from drawing attention as a class clown and to dedicate himself to training.
From there, she said, he maintained his "charming personality" and became a serious talent.
"He began to dance beautifully in our program and even more so when I attended his performances at the University of Akron," Levan said.
"Duane also understands the value of giving back. As often as possible, Duane returns to (Eastland-Fairfield's) Performing Arts and teaches a master dance class to students," she said.
"He shares his story, answers their questions and gives pointers to help them successfully pursue college dance degrees and ultimately careers of their own."
Gosa said he hoped old friends, ballet lovers and those curious about the Trocks will come to the Columbus show.
He said it blends classical ballet with parodies that can appeal to all.
"It's definitely a great show," Gosa said. "There are a lot of jokes that are inside jokes for dancers, but it also jokes about really how ridiculous ballet can be.
"It's a fun show. You're going to laugh and you're going to have a good time."
Gosa said he hoped audience members and others who hear his story will be inspired to follow their dreams.
"Especially coming from a small place like Pickerington, to show there's a whole world out there for you," he said.
"I'm excited to be a voice and an image to show someone from a place like Pickerington can make it."