Elgin-born dancer follows dream to Cirque du Soleil

Trent Jeray spent years as a struggling dancer — living on food stamps, doing street performances, sleeping on a friend’s floor for months while going to auditions and teaching dance lessons.

But it’s all paying off now for the Elgin native.

Jeray, 28, whose real name is Trent Jeray Mendoza, now dances in some of Las Vegas’ biggest shows, including his current gig as a soloist in “Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil.”

Earlier this month, he was a contestant on NBC’s “World of Dance.” Even though he was eliminated in the first round, he described it as a life-changing experience.

“It was my first time being in the Hollywood scene … and I’m going to take what I learned and move forward. I want to be in that energy,” he said.

During a party after the show, the celebrity judges gave Jeray some positive feedback. Derek Hough complimented Jeray’s music and “Memphis jookin,” a style of street dance that involves phenomenal footwork.


Jennifer Lopez also had encouraging words.

“She said, ‘You have something really special about you, and you just need to keep going forward. You have a special little soul and you’re going to do great,'” he said. “It was really, really motivating.”

Jeray was born in Elgin but his parents split up when he was a baby. So he went to live with his mom in Memphis and spent summers in Chicago with his father. As a kid, he remembers going outside alone and trying to imitate Michael Jackson’s moves, especially the “Smooth Criminal” dance video.

“I was just playing around with it. It was something to keep me out of trouble and gang-related stuff,” he said, adding that his teen years consisted of two things, video games and jookin.

When he was 19, he sat with his grandmother, who was dying of cancer, and she told him about a crazy dream she had where she saw him dancing on television and in big shows.

“I wasn’t seeing any of that for myself at the time,” he said.

But soon after, Jeray decided he wanted to do more with his life than work warehouse jobs and make sandwiches in the family’s barbecue business. He took a leap of faith to pursue a dance career. He sold his car, took his small amount of savings and moved to different places around the U.S. trying to get dance jobs.

“I even auditioned for Chippendales one time. It was horrible,” he said, laughing. “The dancing was super easy, but I was the skinniest guy in the room.”

His family worried about him and begged Jeray to move back home. But he insisted on finding his own way. He kept practicing his dancing, while auditioning and working as much as possible.

“That’s the journey. Nothing is given. You have to take risks and go for it and give it a shot,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to fall in my lap and be given to me.”

Jeray auditioned for a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. He got a callback almost six months later. He was first cast in “The Beatles LOVE,” then in the Michael Jackson show. He’s also danced in some national commercials and music videos by Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams.

When not on a stage in Vegas, Jeray can usually be found jookin while wearing a baseball hat, a T-shirt (including his Chicago Bulls T-shirts) and high-top Nike Air Force 1 or Air Jordan 11 shoes.

“They’ve got good soles and I can get on my tiptoes and do smooth glides, and it’s perfect. You gotta be smooth,” he said, laughing.

He teaches his smooth jookin online now and is pursuing acting, too. He just finished the short film musical “Love and Happiness.”

Jeray’s advice to aspiring dancers?

“If you see a vision for yourself, go for it. Don’t hold back or cheat yourself. It’s for you,” he said. “Don’t let anyone else tell you, you can’t do something. Once you do that, you’re letting yourself down.”

{ SOURCE: Chicago Daily Herald | https://goo.gl/GFXbHM }