USC Trojan Dance Force: Hugo Miller

Hugo Miller gestures to the crowd during the Jan. 27 men’s basketball game against UCLA at Galen Center. (Photo/Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)


Meet Hugo Miller, the first male dancer on the Trojan Dance Force

The USC Marshall freshman is grabbing headlines for his bold dance moves on the Galen Center court.

March 06, 2024 By Rachel B. Levin

Freshman Hugo Miller made history this school year when he stepped onto the court of the Galen Center as the first male member of the Trojan Dance Force team. This week, Miller, a business administration major at the USC Marshall School of Business and a dance minor at the USC Kaufman School of Dance, was featured in an article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times’ Sports section for his barrier-breaking work with the dance team.

USC Trojan Dance Force and USC President Carol Folt
USC President Carol Folt visits with the USC Trojan Dance Force. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Trojan Dance Force)

The Trojan Dance Force, founded in 1995, performs at USC Trojans men’s and women’s basketball games. During the audition process last fall, Miller stood out to coach Mina Ortega — and not just for his gender. “There was just something very confident in the way he represented himself,” Ortega said. “And then I watched him dance and thought, ‘We have something here.’ I knew that he had the depth, the heart, the work ethic and the grind for Dance Force.”

Miller spoke with USC News about his love of dance, his decision to try out for the team and his hope of inspiring other men and boys interested in dance.

How do you feel about being featured in the Los Angeles Times as the first male dancer to join the Trojan Dance Force?

Miller: That was a very special opportunity to have my story amplified on such a large platform. It’s accomplishing exactly what I hoped. I get to show to all the little boys or kids like me that you’re on the right path, you belong where you’re at. I wasn’t always assured of that — not because of a lack of affirmation from leadership figures in my life. It’s just [that having] the feeling of being the only boy — or the only one of anything — you can fall into questioning whether you belong. I get to stand here at 19 knowing that I belong and [getting acknowledgment] from my community, but now I also get to say that exact message back to people in a similar position.

What do you hope the impact will be on boys and men who would like to dance or join a team but may be hesitant to do so?

Miller: I am the first boy, or first male, to do this. But I don’t want to be the last. Hopefully, seeing my success and how the athletic community at USC has embraced me will inspire them to just try out for that audition. Or maybe [I can inspire them] to take dance classes to chase what they love and know that there are no parameters on what makes you happy. There are no parameters on your creative outlets. That is entirely yours and for you to decide.

Hugo Miller performs with his USC Trojan Dance Force teammates at Galen Center
The USC Trojan Dance Force, with Hugo Miller at right, entertains the audience at Galen Center. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Trojan Dance Force)

How did you discover your love of dance?

Miller: Starting at a very young age, performing made me happy. I would sit my parents down and put on these shows for them, where I would just dance around with my boombox to whatever music. I was a very rebellious young artist and refused to enroll in dance classes, despite my mom’s pleas, as she is a choreographer. Looking back, a lot of my dance education as a young kid was sitting in rehearsals where my mom would be working on a dance show, getting to see behind the scenes of her creative process.

At what other points in your dance journey have you experienced being the only male?

Miller: I decided on my own to try ballet in sixth grade. And, of course, there were no boys in that class. My mom and I called the studio before, saying, “What should I wear? You know, I’m going to be the only boy.” Walking into that room, you feel it. You stand out.

Hugo Miller performs in Into the Woods as an 11-year-old
Hugo Miller, then 11, performs in an elementary school production of Into the Woods at PS1 in Santa Monica. (Photo/Phil Hayes)

[At Windward School in Los Angeles,] I was a part of the advanced middle school contemporary dance company. I was the only boy there. Probably my biggest first was I was the first male on the [Windward] high school cheerleading team. There was a little bit of backlash from the community, but I think all that did was fuel my fire. I remember talking to my mom, being really scared. She told me to hold my chin up high, so I thought, “I have only one choice, and that is to step out with more confidence than ever.”

How did those experiences prepare you for your role with the Trojan Dance Force?

Miller: At USC, our athletic tradition runs deep. It’s something the alumni are so proud of. I knew that I was breaking tradition, and there’s something delicate about that. I knew the only option when I stepped out at that first basketball game was to do my absolute best and dance better than I ever had before — not only to embrace the gaze of many fans who probably had never seen a boy [dance] on that court, but also to just really revel in the opportunity.

What made you decide to try out for the Trojan Dance Force team?

Miller: I loved my experience cheerleading in high school. On that team I had a support system, a group of people who always had my back. More importantly, I had this immense creative outlet that got me through everything in high school. It was always my North Star that tethered me to something bigger. Cheer felt like my element. Performing felt like my element. So, in college, where essentially every aspect of your life completely shifts, continuing to perform at sporting events felt like the natural transition.

What has it been like as a man integrating into a dance team with 13 women?

Miller: The coach approached me and asked, “How do you want to handle being the first boy? What are you comfortable with?” And it’s always been an open discussion. And I just said, “I just want to be a team member. So, if they’re dancing with poms, I want to dance with poms. If they’re in black and gold, I want to be dressed in black and gold.” I just was excited to be a part of the team.

What have you enjoyed most about being on the team?

Miller: I am not exaggerating when I tell you I am grateful for this team every single day. We get the chance to drop everything we’re doing for four hours on a game day, be with people we love, and just dance. It’s not just that those four hours are blissful: It’s arming us with skills. It’s taught me the accountability to show up, no matter what else is happening in your life —  to put on that smile, even if you wake up that morning feeling down.

USC Trojan Dance Force poses in Galen Center
The Trojan Dance Force performs at USC men’s and women’s basketball games. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Trojan Dance Force)

I’ve never danced like this. I’ve never had to learn this many routines this quickly and have them look this polished in such a short frame of time. But it’s an undertaking that is so worth it. There’s no better feeling than knowing you are improving at your craft.

What drew you to study at USC, and what has your academic experience been like?

Miller: I chose to study at USC because I didn’t have to sacrifice my academic, artistic or personal endeavors. USC [is a] place where I could enrich every aspect of who I am. What’s extra special is I get to study something very practical like business, while throughout my week, I’m also dancing to my favorite hip-hop songs in Galen Center. That’s the beauty of USC: You can be a business student from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then go and live your dancing dreams in the evening.

You met USC Trojans women’s basketball star JuJu Watkins in your middle school English class and cheered for her in your high school. What is it like to cheer for her now as a Trojan Dance Force member?

Miller: When I cheer for JuJu now at the collegiate level and I get to hug her after the game, it’s such a full-circle journey for both of us. It’s such a special thing to see her growth and see my growth. We’ve had very different journeys, but we’ve ended up at the same place for now.

You’ll be traveling to Las Vegas with some Trojan Dance Force members to support the men’s basketball team at the Pac-12 tournament. What are you looking forward to about the experience?

Miller: Traveling with my team to cheer on the men’s basketball team in such a major arena is taking all this work to the next level. Exponentially, the stakes are getting raised. I’ve become such a basketball fan. Outside of getting the opportunity to dance, getting to watch a major collegiate basketball tournament excites me, which is something that would have shocked my 15-year-old self who was entering cheer as the first male there.

Just being a part of the USC culture, I’ve become such a fan of all these people I get to cheer for. When I am watching the game, I am mesmerized, I’m stressed, and my fingers are crossed. Maybe I’m a little shaky because I’m nervous they won’t get the point. And then they make the point! The timeout is called, we run on — and we dance.