Christian Bottger has danced his way into the hearts of thousands of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans this fall. Now his slick moves are taking the 10-year-old Largo student also known as "Little Fear" all the way to New York City.
Bottger, the son of Buccaneers Video Production Manager Ed Bottger, has become something of a game-day and YouTube sensation during the team's 2012 season thanks to the complicated dance routines he has performed on the Raymond James Stadium field with the team's cheerleaders and mascot Captain Fear. On Tuesday morning, Christian and his crew will be featured on the* Today *show on NBC and will perform for the show on the plaza outside the studio.
The Today show will begin at 7:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning, and will feature several dance-routine teasers before Christian and the rest of the Bucs' representatives are interviewed at approximately 8:30 a.m.
Christian's rise to prominence started with a spot-on imitation of the inescapable "Gangnam Style" dance during the Buccaneers' September 30 game against the Washington Redskins. That game-day performance piggy-backed off the runaway success of a Gangnam parody video produced by the Buccaneers that swapped rapper Psy for Captain Fear and employed the young Bottger as the child featured at the beginning of the original video. The Bucs' version drew more than 200,000 views on YouTube and Buccaneers.com.
The sensation picked up steam during Tampa Bay's October 21 Throwback Game against New Orleans. On a day filled with '80s reminiscence, Bottger and company morphed from the Gangnam dance straight into a routine based on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. Christian's popularity with the Raymond James Stadium crowd went to another level, however, thanks in part to the incredible performance of another young Buccaneer. With rookie running back Doug Martin taking the league by storm – and searching for a nickname to replace the despised "Muscle Hamster" – one of Bottger's fellow Buc employees suggested the next game-day routine: The Dougie.
And a star was officially born.
Wearing Martin's #22 red jersey and backed up by his new crew of the cheerleaders and Captain Fear, Christian performed to "Teach Me How to Dougie" by Cali Swag District during quarter breaks in the Bucs' games against Atlanta and Philadelphia. Each time, the routine brought a huge response from the crowd. The FOX broadcast team included a bit of the group's dance during one of their transitions to a commercial and a YouTube video of the performance caught the eye of the* Today *crew. Sunday's performance was discussed by show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie as they watched the video, and before long an invitation to New York had been sent to the Bottger family.
Christian was in class at Fuguitt Elementary School when his Ed and his wife, Christine, got the call. They were in the office of the school's principal, showing her the video on Christine's phone when Christian tried to call his mom and was hastily summoned to join them.
"I thought my parents were joking," said Christian of his reaction upon hearing the good news. "They were asking me if I used my phone in class and I was nervous that I was in trouble. Then they told me what it was really about and I was like, 'Oh…my…God.' And then we had to start packing."
Indeed, Christian's very first plane flight was just hours away – it is not an exaggeration to say that is the part of the trip he is most excited about – and he needed some new cold-weather clothes. He also had local reporters lining up to interview him over the phone.
It's a whirlwind of fresh experiences for Christian, but dance is nothing new for him or his entire family. His two older sisters, Brandi and Ashley, have long been dancing competitively, and he joined them at competitions when he was five. The family competes out of the Starstruck Dance Studio in Largo, and is usually in transit taking one of the three children to or from a practice. He became familiar with the Buccaneers Cheerleaders through three years of participating in the Junior Cheerleaders program and performing halftime routines.
"He's been competing for five years, since he was five years old," said the elder Bottger of the new TV star in the family. "This past year, he won the Male Petite Solo Dancer of the Year. He does solo and duets and dances in groups, and he loves it. He dances six times a week."
Christian has probably done about as much thinking about his long-term future as any 10-year-old, but he concedes that he could see himself pursuing a career in dance.
"Maybe...okay, yeah, pretty much," he says with a laugh. "I think I could be a real professional dancer."
Adds his dad: "He enjoys it so much. He dances with some of his closest friends, so he gets to be with them almost every day. Even when they're not dancing they're together. It's like any organized sport or team – those guys are always together, they have fun, they teach each other technique and stuff. I don't know where he'll go with this in the future, if he'll decide to be a professional dancer or not, but he's definitely enjoying it now."
Christian is a quick learner. He picked up the Dougie routine in two days, learning it by watching videos on his phone and the home computer sent over by Bucs Cheerleading Coordinator Cathy Boyd. The most impressive part of the game-day routines was how well the moves were synched between Christian, Captain Fear and the cheerleaders. There is little doubt, however, that the crowd's biggest reaction was saved for the precocious 10-year-old.
Christian seems almost unfazed by the attention, or by the thought of being on national television. After performing in front of 65,000 fans on Sunday, there is no worry that he'll be nervous on Tuesday morning. Besides, he knows exactly what it takes to perform a great routine.
"Lots of technique and emotion," said Christian. "There are a lot of dance types and you have to get all of them down for a big, giant dance competition. It's a lot of fun."