A young man from Riverside has landed a role in a national touring production of West Side Story as his first job after graduating in May from the University of Illinois with a degree in dance. Mark Deler, a 2008 graduate of Riverside Brookfield High School, has been in New York City for the past five weeks rehearsing and getting ready for the start of a nearly nine month long, 80 city, 180 show national tour that begins Oct. 25 in Ashland, Kentucky.

The show will hit Chicago next year when it plays at the Oriental Theater from June 11 through June 15.

Deler, just 22, will play a member of the Sharks street gang in West Side Story and is the understudy for the role of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. Deler is half Puerto Rican and half Dominican which may explain why he was cast as a Shark, but it is his all-around dance, musical and theatrical ability that landed him the part.

His dance teacher at RB, Mindy Haines, was not surprised that her former student landed such a coveted role right out of college. She spotted his talent when he was just a sophomore at RB with no formal dance training.

“It does not surprise me at all that he’s performing in West Side Story,” Haines said. “He’s almost like made for the role. He is such a dynamic young man. He’s a natural performer.”

Deler tried out for the play last spring. He was trying out for a position on a Disney Fantasy Cruise when a friend told him there were tryouts for a national tour of West Side Story. He paid his own flight to New York City for the audition. A few days after the initial tryouts he got a call back for a final audition. So again he bought a ticket for a flight to New York for a final audition before the producer, director and choreographer.

A few days later he got the call. He had been chosen for the show.

He was thrilled to land the role and turned down an offer to perform on the Disney Fantasy Cruise to take the stage role.

“It’s a true blessing,” Deler said during a recent interview he conducted while reviewing his script in Central Park. “When I first auditioned for it I thought why not. It feels great to have it.”

Deler moved to New York on Aug. 29 and before the start of formal rehearsals on Sept. 25 he would just roam the city with his script.

“I take my West Side Story script and kind of find different areas to rehearse in,” Deler said.

Prior to his sophomore year at RB, Deler’s dance experience was pretty much limited to dancing to Michael Jackson songs at home.

“I loved to watch him dance and I tried to copy a lot,” Deler said.

As a sophomore at RB he appeared in the fall play and the spring musical and he enjoyed both. He said he had one of the “more dancy” parts in Once Upon a Mattress.

A member of Orchesis, the RB dance troupe, asked him to help them out by appearing in a few pieces with them and Deler thought why not.

“I did it and enjoyed my time there,” Deler said. “I took a liking to it and was pretty OK at it.”

Haines thought he was better than OK and was thrilled to have a male dancer.

“I saw potential in him,” Haines said. “He was a natural performer. I knew that there was something in him. He developed a passion for dance.”

Deler threw himself into dance with a passion that Haines has rarely seen. He took all of Haines’s dance classes and became a member of the prestigious Repertory Dance Ensemble at RB.

At RB he brought down the house his junior and senior years in appearances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and as the Teen Angel in Grease.

“You couldn’t take your eyes off him when he was on the stage,” Haines said. “You just wanted to watch him because he just had this stage presence and dynamite personality that just showed though.”

Deler still remembers fondly the standing ovation he received after singing Beauty School Dropout in Grease.

“It was really cool,” Deler said. “I felt on top of the world.”

Haines encouraged Deler to go get some formal ballet training so the summer before his junior and senior year of high school he took an intensive class with Salt Creek Ballet in Westmont. He loved it.

“I think it was from that point that I really decided that I liked what I was doing and that I wanted to continue in it,” Deler said.

He was the only boy doing dance most of his time at RB, but that wasn’t a problem for him. He was even named Prom King his senior year.

“I had fun and people eventually saw that I was good at what I did,” Deler said. “Ms. Hart (Haines’s former name) made me really comfortable with whatever I wanted to do with dance. I worked with Mindy a lot. She was definitely there at the beginning of my career and she definitely helped. She made me feel comfortable. I felt wanted and appreciated for what I was doing. I would say she was a big influence with where I’m at today.”