Patrick Opran is living his truth. For the first time, the Boston Celtics selected men to be on their dance team this season, and the New York City native can be found performing every night in front of nearly 20,000 fans inside of a raucous TD Garden.
It was a long road for Opran to arrive at this point. His journey to the Garden’s iconic parquet floor began at 16 years old, when he started dancing in New York. There, Opran learned from some of the best choreographers in the biz, who also worked with mega-stars such as Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga.
Simultaneously, Opran was working towards his law degree, and even spent a year teaching in Romania.
With each gyration, he shares another part of his life story.
“There is nothing like dancing at TD Garden with thousands of Boston Celtics fans,” Opran told Outsports. “They love the city, they love the sport. They love the entertainment. I feel very welcomed, and I feel their energy and love.”
When Opran first moved to Boston, he tried to juggle his legal and dancing careers, but that was unsustainable. He worked all day and danced all night, and then went back to the firm so he could burn the midnight oil.
Giving up a good job at a law firm to pursue a dancing career was risky. But for Opran, professional stability wasn’t worth abandoning his passion.
“I like to say that dance is my ultimate life hack,” said Opran. “It’s very physically demanding, so it requires a lot of your body. Spiritually, there’s a reason we call it ‘e-motion.’ It needs to move you, and dance does that times 10. You put your life experience into it, otherwise it doesn’t come to life. In that way, it’s very healing.”
Brimming with confidence, Opran, who also works at the renowned Berklee College of Music, jumped at the chance to submit his audition tape when he found out the Celtics were taking male dancers. Being part of the Celtics dance team is one of the most visible gigs for pro dancers in Boston.
Still, Opran was a little trepidatious when he got called back for an interview. Sports have not always been the most welcome place for gay people, and the NBA has a mixed record when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ issues.
But Opran’s nerves were quelled when he started performing in front of his coach, Marina Ortega. She didn’t think his routines were flamboyant enough.
“In other dance spaces, I’ve been told I need to have my ‘masc up,’ you know, dance more like a man,” he said. “I’ve never been told that in this space. I would say the feedback I got is that I need to be more myself. Our coach, Mariana, really emphasizes integrity in all aspects.”
Opran says he’s even been allowed to strike a vogue during one of their pieces. Now that’s artistic freedom.
“I feel really celebrated for my identity,” he said.
Despite the “gay dancer” stereotype, the sport can be very heteronormative. Men are often expected to fulfill certain roles, especially when it comes to performing on a team.
But that’s changing around pro sports. NBA teams eliminated all-female dance squads in 2019, and there have been an influx of out gay, male cheerleaders in the NFL. This season, the Carolina Panthers have a trans cheerleader.
That’s worth celebrating, considering the high-profile nature of these gigs. It doesn’t get more mainstream than being on the Celtics dance team. Bostonians of all stripes flock to the Garden; especially this season, since the Celtics own the best record in the league.
And each night, Opran performs authentically for the city to see. That’s pretty cool.
“If you can’t be yourself, you’re probably in the wrong room. If someone is demanding you lead with your best self, which can be challenging, then you’re definitely in the right room,” he said. “I feel like I grow every time I’m in rehearsal, at the TD Garden, or actually performing.”