Part Marine, part dancer
LAUGHLIN — Everyone knows that one kid who just can’t sit still. It isn’t a behavioral problem, as much as it is simply a need to move, to constantly be busy.
Jorge Richard Lagunas was that kid, but he discovered a way to channel that energy into art and honor — a life long love of ballet dance and a career in the United States Marines.
He began training with the Anaheim Ballet in their outreach program at only 8 years old and has continued his study for nearly 16 years. Lagunas has graced Don Laughlin’s Celebrity theater stage in various roles when the Riverside Resort brings Anaheim Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” to town.
He’s also performed in the ballet’s many other productions over the years.
“I used to go to this school down the street from Anaheim Ballet and every time I’d walk by with my mom, I’d always just kind of stare in and see all the dancing going on,” he said. “I got really curious about that — ballet.”
Laguna started practicing Mexican folkloric dance when he was four, and continued for several years.
“Then I saw ballet and I kind of just wanted to wander in to see what it was about,” the 25-year old said. “So I wandered in and tried it for a while. I liked it and I just stayed. So that’s how that came about.”
Lagunas remembers his first role, as Fritz, Clara’s pesky little brother in ‘The Nutcracker,’ fondly.
“I remember pulling the little girl’s hair. In the beginning of the story during the party scene, he gets to pull his sister’s hair to distract her. That was always my favorite part of the role,” he said with a laugh. “This time when I’m in Laughlin, I will be both the Snow King and the Chinese Ambassador.”
Lagunas credits dancing with the focus and balance he’s found in all facets of his life.
“For me, I’m a very active person, I can’t sit still,” he said. “It kind of helped to mellow me out, in a sense. I like being active — (ballet is) mental, it’s physical, it’s a lot, so it definitely helps me with my studies and everything. With studying and going to school, everything is mental. You sit down, you’re reading from a book, you’re doing things from the top of your head, and ballet is very physical and it uses that mentality as well to keep you focused.”
These days, in addition to continuing his dance career, Lagunas is also a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, stationed at Air Station Miramar in San Diego with Marine Air Control Group 48, under the Marine Wing Communications Squadron 48 Detachment airfield forward, he said.
“I’m a digital wideband repairman — basically what I do is I fix any radio that has to do with satellite communication,” Lagunas said. “There’s a lot of physics to ballet so it always helps in other aspects of my life.”
One might assume boot camp drills would be a piece of cake for someone who’s been doing strength and agility training since the age of eight but that isn’t the case, he said.
“It’s easier, but it’s also two different types of strength,” Lagunas explained. “They’re two completely different beasts of their own. I recently took one of my friends down to San Diego for drills. He was amazed and didn’t understand how I can lift a girl up over my head, but I’m struggling to do 25 pull-ups. He’s over there knocking them out like nothing.”
Finding the balance between the varying standards of physicality has been a struggle over the years, Lagunas said.
“I can go to ballet and be in shape for ballet, but it will not be compared to anything physically for the Marine Corps,” he said. “And if I’m completely in shape for the Marine Corps, making the standards required of them, I will not be in complete shape at all for ballet. It’s two different beasts for sure.
“I found that very difficult to understand in the beginning, too, because I wasn’t getting it — ‘I’m in shape, I’m good, I’m solid,’ I thought, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be with either one.”
Lagunas also navigates the stereotypical attitudes and demands of both dance and being a Marine.
“I do get a little bit of trouble sometimes from guys who don’t understand it,” he said. “Having to be there in Laughlin during this time and I have to be down in San Diego as well, because that’s where I’m stationed, it was a little difficult getting the time off. They didn’t understand the difference between having a ‘real job’ that’s 9 to 5 and then having a contract job with Anaheim Ballet. So when I tell them it’s ballet, they do give you that sense of ‘are you sure?’ They wonder, ‘is it a lie, is it just something you’re feeding us?’ They also give you that mental attitude, ‘you’re a guy, why are you doing ballet?’”
As an electrical engineering major at Grand Canyon University in Mesa, Arizona, Lagunas is also confronting racial stereotypes as a student.
“I know not many Hispanic people want to enter that kind of field — it’s a different type of beast,” Lagunas said. “I do like being the one that breaks barriers, especially because I can show my younger brother that anything is possible if you want to do it. You just have to have the heart, you have to have the courage and you have to have respect for it — you just can’t walk in with the mentality of ‘this is who I am,’ you have to adjust to what circumstances you’re in. A lot of it is respect for and dedication to what you’re doing. And of course, my mom is always proud of me.”
What does the future hold for Lagunas? Does he want a career in the military or does he just want to serve?
“Maybe a little bit of both,” he said. “I went into the Marines because I didn’t know what I wanted to do really.”
Post high school, Lagunas took various courses in college but couldn’t find his niche, so he decided to join the Marine Corps.
“I decided on the job they had available. Then I found electronics and that’s how I fell in love with electronics through the Marine Corps,” he said. “I definitely want to pursue that. Eventually I do want to either laterally move over to the Air Force and work for their planes, or work for Disney research doing electronic stuff or work for Boeing.”
Like all physical activity, dealing with injuries is a reality, and the responsibility and acquired philosophy that go with that, keeps Lagunas on his toes.
“I feel like if you’ve found something you love, you can always work through the pain, but it’s also important to know when you’re really hurt, so you have to take it easy — and there’s always something for you to work on.”
Lagunas finds his addiction to physical expression serves him well as both a Marine and an dancer.
“Being able to express yourself physically in a sense — if you’re doing it right, you have that presence anybody can really understand it, and it’s like the audience is like, ‘oh, this is what you’re trying to say,’” Lagunas said. “In the Marine Corps, when I was in boot camp, one of our drill instructors said ‘self-improvement for the betterment of the organization,’ and that really always rang with me because you can apply that to a lot of things. There’s always something you can improve on in everything — whether it’s for you or someone else. For me, it’s having a partner in ‘The Nutcracker.’ I’m always like ‘I gotta be stronger, I’ve gotta be faster, I’ve gotta be there for them’ but it’s not just for them, because it applies for everybody else as well, and in studies and everything in life.”