After failing to earn a spot on the New Orleans Pelicans dance team last summer, Dylon Hoffpauir made a commitment to himself to do whatever it took to cheer for a professional sports team one day.
Hoffpauir worked out, took hip-hop dance classes and kept a positive mindset.
"I mentally promised myself I would do something every single day to make a team this year," he said. "I made the year a rebuilding one for myself to where they wouldn't be able to tell me no this year."
He made good on that promise last week when he was named a member of the Saintsations, the official dance team of the New Orleans Saints.
"I'm so excited for my rookie year as a Saintsation," Hoffpauir said. "I'm so excited to be on the field in the dome."
Hoffpauir's dream to cheer for a professional sports team seemed more attainable last year when Jesse Hernandez became the first male member of the Saintsations.
"It was almost like a light at the end of the tunnel for me," Hoffpauir said. "It excited me and motivated me. I didn't have to focus on being a male dancer anymore. I just had to focus on being the best dancer that I could be."
Upon hearing those words, Hernandez said he's even more excited to begin his second season with the Saintsations.
"It fills a place in my heart and makes me feel very happy that Dylon's part of this journey," Hernandez said. "There's so much more to the organization than just dancing. To feel the love and support I've gotten and to share that with him will make it even better for me this upcoming season."
Hoffpauir and Hernandez are just two of the five men who tried out for the Saintsations this year. Three made the team.
"Last year, I was the only guy to show up to tryouts, and we didn't even know if this was possible," Hernandez said. "When I got there this year and saw four other guys there, I was excited because this isn't an opportunity a lot of other guys get, especially here in the South."
Hoffpauir, 27, has been dancing for as long as he can remember, even though he never took formal lessons in his hometown of Erath.
"Being from a small town, we didn't have a whole lot of options," Hoffpauir said. "And I was scared to pursue the opportunities I did have, knowing that it wouldn't be a good experience in a small town where people don't feel that males should be dancers."
Instead, he taught himself how to do flips on a trampoline and learned the basics of dancing through watching YouTube videos.
Hoffpauir cheered for Erath High School's squad for a few months, but the schedule conflicted with other school activities so he couldn't continue. He cheered for LSU and took dance classes in college to further develop his skills.
"I just recognized at a young age that I had this ability, so I found any way I could to make myself better," Hoffpauir said.
Hernandez, 26, also grew up in Vermilion Parish. Unlike Hoffpauir, Hernandez grew up dancing because his mother taught lessons in their hometown of Maurice, which is about 15 miles away from Hoffpauir's hometown of Erath.
Hernandez was the first boy to join North Vermilion High School's dance team. He later coached the GatorGirls, the dance team for the now-defunct Louisiana IceGators minor league hockey team.
"Dancing is something that's brought joy to my life, even with the teasing and taunting that came with it," Hernandez said. "I released all my frustrations into dance, and that's what made me stronger at competitions. I would pour my emotions out onto the dance floor."
The ridicule is mostly a thing of the past for Hernandez and Hoffpauir, who said they've received overwhelmingly positive feedback from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers who learned they would be performing for the Saintsations.
"My phone actually froze from the outpouring of text messages and calls and notifications on Facebook and Twitter," Hoffpauir said. "I am so thankful that so many people care enough about what I'm doing to take the time to congratulate me. All that positive feedback from all these people outweighs any negative feedback I could have gotten."
Both hope to use their time with the Saintsations to inspire others to face their fears.
"Being a male dancer in the South is not a common thing," Hernandez said. "But we build from the experience. It takes a strong person to be able to do what we do."
Hoffpauir encourages boys to pursue dance if they are interested and asks instructors to welcome them into their classes.
"Dancing is a hobby just like photography or painting," Hoffpauir said. "It's just another hobby that anyone should be able to do if they're interested in it. Everybody should be able to pursue any dream they have."