The Prince Theater in Philadelphia is hosting a modern dance company from Canada, Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, for a week of performances.
It’s a homecoming for one of the company’s dancers, who grew up in a working class neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia.
“No matter where I go, I’m filled with gratitude because my parents raised me to appreciate what I have,” said Mark Caserta, who grew up in a big, Italian household whose members were “attached at the hip.”
“My parents let me be really independent,” said Caserta during a visit to his family over the holidays. “It was a rough neighborhood. It wasn’t the nicest or cleanest, but it made me be more determined.”
His father, also named Mark Caserta, is a lifelong athlete, having spent most of his adult life coaching sports one way or another. Right now, he coaches softball for Penn State Brandywine.
The father wanted an athlete, the son wanted to dance.
“I played everything — baseball, basketball, football. My dad literally kicked me off every team,” said Caserta. “I was horrible and not focused. In the outfield, doing twirls.”
Caserta started dancing at Danceadelphia on Snyder Avenue in South Philly because his older sister, Mallory, was going and he wanted to do whatever she was doing. He stayed on after Mallory went on to pursue other interests, but he wanted to be an actor.
He applied to Philadelphia’s High School of Creative and Performing Arts as a dancer because it was easier to be accepted as a dancer than an actor. He figured he would switch focus once he got in. By then, his fate was sealed.
He went on to study dance at the University of the Arts, then danced professionally in New York. Now 28, he tours the world with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal.
As for Caserta Sr., he couldn’t be prouder of his son, even if he doesn’t play baseball.
“I wanted my kid to be a little athlete, you know. I was taken aback a little bit, to be honest with you,” said Caserta Sr. “He was teased when he was younger by his cousins. ‘Mark’s always dancing, he’s with the girls!’ Now, all those cousins can’t bother us enough for tickets to his shows.”
Caserta did get an athlete in the family. His daughter, Mallory, was the one who excelled at sports through high school. Two weeks ago she gave Caserta his first grandchild.
This week, everybody is coming down to the Prince to see the dancer of the family perform onstage.