As a young, male dancer, Isaiah Day felt like an “outcast” before enrolling at The Chicago Academy for the Arts.

The Hyde Park resident and Academy sophomore said he never fit in at traditional public schools, where he was called hurtful names and always was treated with disrespect.

“It was rough,” said Day, 15. “Every other boy played sports, and I knew as a dancer that I was an outcast. When I came to The Academy, it was life changing. It was great to know I had a place to feel safe.”

Day was the only male dancer at any of his schools through eighth grade, but at The Academy, which boasts one of the top high school dance programs in the country, he’s one of several. A dancer since second grade, he loves the craft because he “transforms” when performing.

“I’m a fairly silly guy, but when I dance, you see a different side, a more aggressive side,” Day said. “It’s amazing to see how beauty can be created through this art form, and I like to express myself freely.”

Day commutes by train, bus, and car six days a week to The Academy, including every Saturday to be part of the school’s Repertory Dance Company, which passes down works from class to class to be performed professionally within the community. The Repertory Dance Company has upcoming performances Dec. 2 at the Youth Dance Exhibition at Ridgewood High School in Norridge and the Jan. 20 Senior-Choreographed Dance Concert at Athenaeum Theatre.

Randy Duncan, Chair of the Dance Department at The Academy, said Day has “a gift of dance that he was blessed with.”

“That is only enhanced by honing his skills, working diligently each day, improving what he learned the day before and listening to all corrections given to him by the dance coaches and teachers, then implementing immediately,” said Duncan, whose dancers routinely are accepted into elite arts schools like Juilliard.

Day said he’s also thankful to receive tuition assistance at The Academy. About 60 percent of the student body receives some sort of financial assistance and The Academy awards more than $1 million in tuition assistance each year. It also recently debuted the Rusty and Jeffrey Sanfilippo Young Men's Dance Initiative, an Academy scholarship program for elite-level male dancers entering the ninth grade. The scholarship pays for up to the entire cost of tuition.

Day first visited The Academy during eighth grade when attending a spring dance show. “Once I saw that, I told myself I was going to be on the school’s dance stage one day,” he said.

He said coming to The Academy was the best decision he’s ever made.

“To see how the students are so dedicated to their crafts here, it’s just inspiring,” Day said. “Everyone is accepting of everyone else here, and no one judges. This is a perfect place for me to come and not be judged for what I’m passionate about.”

For more information on the Rusty and Jeffrey Sanfilippo Young Men's Dance Initiative, visit https://www.chicagoacademyforthearts.org/ymdi

For more information on The Chicago Academy for the Arts visit https://www.chicagoacademyforthearts.org

Photos by Kyle Flubaker and Thomas Mohr Photography