Theatre and dance student finds community of acceptance and creativity

Lauren Zimmer

Brandon de Leon, theatre and dance junior, knew he was meant to be a performer from the time he was 5 years old. When de Leon’s family moved from McAllen, Texas, to Mexico, he was introduced to his childhood idol: Selena.

“She inspired me to sing,” de Leon said. “I knew I had to perform to get through life.”

At 9, he returned to Texas with his family, but financial struggles prevented him from receiving any formal training. 

In high school, de Leon joined choir on a whim.

“When I was in choir, I didn’t have to ‘come out,’” de Leon said. “This was a safe place for us. We were just being ourselves. It was also nice to know there were other people like me and that it was normal. I began to accept myself.”

During choir, de Leon met Julissa Dena, who de Leon said was one of the first people to take him seriously.

“He’s already a very happy guy, but he’s the happiest when he performs,” Dena said. “I’ve always defended him, and he’s helped me become a better version of myself.”

After graduation, de Leon took the prerequisites to become a respiratory therapist but decided the medical field was not the right place for him.

Hunter Sturgis, dance and physics sophomore, later convinced de Leon to apply to UT’s theatre and dance program.

“[De Leon] is full of an unwavering desire to change the world through performance,” Sturgis said. “I am so proud of him for all the work he’s put into this.”

On the morning of his audition, de Leon said he felt like he had found the community he been searching for. 

“What unites us are dreams,” de Leon said. 

After his time at UT, de Leon hopes to work in theaters in Los Angeles, New York City and Las Vegas. He would also like to teach.

“What’s going to take you places is your passion, ambition and persistence,” de Leon said. “Not just artists should have that, but everyone should have that in life. Sometimes, the way I see life is like a theater production and not everything is perfect, but there’s a saying in theater — ‘The show must go on.’”