Rebecca Shumway ©2020

Indefatigable Jean-Paul:  

A Millennial Student, Dancer, and Creative


This hybrid creative relates the Millennial struggle of passion projects and survival in Miami.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Jean-Paul Cajina — or J.P., as he prefers — is not your average dancer. Even though he signs autographs, he is not seeking glory or fame. Unlike his peers, he says, “I have no competitive bone in my body.” What he lacks in competitive spirit, he abounds in energy, spontaneity and resilience.

He had to grow up fast: his father left when he was in high school, leaving his mother distraught. He quickly assumed many roles around the house. After graduating high school, where he was active in everything from sports to yearbook, he decided to dance professionally.

J.P.’s first attempt was unsuccessful.

“I tried a backflip during my middle school years after watching ‘You Got Served’ and cracked my head open,” he explains in an email.

This gave him a fear of doing backflips. It was the first of many gruesome dancing-related injuries to come. Although, he reports, “I have not broken a single bone in my body.”

He learned to dance at a studio, where he would stay up late practicing routines. Then he was picked up by the Miami Marlins Energy Team, a dance team for the baseball team’s games and related events.

Jean-Paul finds self-expression in multiple muses.

“I am a firm believer, with first-hand experience, that hard work and heart can take you anywhere,” he writes in his LinkedIn biography. “I will push hard to see how far I can go and set no boundaries because there is always room for improvement.”

Still, passion is not enough to ensure success. Life has a way of pummeling the enthusiasm out of youth with hardship until they sour into adults. Like the time that J.P. was driving home at 3 a.m., exhausted from dance rehearsal. The last memory he has is driving on the highway, and then waking up in smoke. A picture of his mangled Mercedes-Benz shows two impact areas on the blistered windshield where his body made contact: his hand above the driver’s side and his head farther left above the passenger’s side.

After he dozed at the wheel, the car collided with a concrete barrier. Doctors gave him a handout on the part of his brain that was impacted: the frontal lobe, which controls speech. The next night, he performed for a Marlins game. There were still glass fragments in his face. Over the next several months, he never told a single teammate about the invisible effects of the concussion — the pounding headaches and verbal confusion.

“I never really told anyone,” he says. “I keep private life, private. These people are like brothers and sisters to me, but at the time, I didn’t really want to talk about it.”

He still suffers from a mild degree of semantic dementia: conversation flows easily, but he will pause for a few moments to recall a multisyllabic word. It doesn’t prevent him from taking six classes, working several weekly events with the dance team and picking up side work as a freelance photographer and videographer. Just the Marlins gig alone has him dancing at over 80 home games a season. Four clients are on standby for photo shoots.

“I’ll get enough sleep when I die,” he texts.

Next up? He talks about segueing his role with the Marlins from dancer to photographer and videographer. But he’s not a planner. He prefers spontaneity. At Starbucks, he keeps a steady stream of conversation until he reaches the register. He isn’t ready to order. A quick look at the menu. He chooses a Strawberry Acai Refresher. “I don’t plan,” he explains. “I figure it out then and there.” He wasn’t always this way.

“I would think 10 steps ahead. I would line everything up for something to happen, and then it goes the opposite way. Which is why now, I just do things, and if it goes the opposite way, at least I don’t expect this ‘thing’ to happen so I can respond to it easier. I’m flowing rather than being that rock that’s trying to push against it.”

As for his fear of back flips? “I’m working on my fear because I want to learn by this year,” he says. “I’m so serious.”

He provides slow-motion video evidence of his latest attempts — half-way through, he has gone from dancing to airborne.

Featured on Florida International University's blog, The Wire. Written while enrolled in Writing Strategies in the creative advertising program in the School of Communications + Journalism at Florida International University.