Bella Calafiura has come a long way since that very first dance recital. At just 3 years old, she was supposed to come on stage in a frilly tutu to dance circles around Big Bird with the rest of the tykes in her class.
But the little girl who seemed to be always dancing never made it on stage, even as her parents, Frank and Julie, waited with camera in hand.
"I do remember a little about that," Bella, now 16, said. "I remember somebody trying to get me to go on, but I was crying and terrified."
She got over that initial case of stage fright and began training at Dance Time Studio in Port Richey, where she soon caught the attention of the owner and her instructor, Gillian Davis.
Bella has shown the moxie to do some great things — including an upcoming trip to Singapore, no less. In March she took the Royal Academy of Dance's Advanced 2 Ballet Examination and was awarded the highest mark of "distinction." That qualified her to take part in the prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition this fall in Singapore.
"She was always outstanding ever since she was 4," said Davis, noting the bevy of awards that Bella has racked up as well as her primo performances as the Sugar Plum and Dew Drop fairies in the studio's annual productions of The Nutcracker.
Since 2008, Bella has taken additional classes with the Orlando Ballet at the Patel Conservatory in Tampa and danced in solo and ensemble performances.
Over the years she has also qualified to participate in intensive summer workshops with professional ballet companies in Orlando, Houston, New York, Long Beach, Calif., and most recently, San Francisco.
"I always thought she'd stand out," Davis said.
The chance to participate in this latest competition is a big deal, said Davis, who in her younger years trained and danced at the Royal Ballet in London.
"Students throughout the world take part in this accreditation process. She's the first ever in Florida to get this far. She'll be one of about only 30 in the world to take part in this event. It's exceptional."
"I'm really excited about this because this has been kind of a goal for a while," Bella said during a phone interview Monday while taking a midmorning break from the dancing workshop in San Francisco. "But I have to admit, it's also very intimidating."
It's also one of those opportunities not to be passed on, said Davis, who has embarked on fundraising ventures, including jewelry and makeup parties, to send her student to Singapore on Aug. 31 for coaching, choreographing and judging by an international group of teachers, choreographers and artistic directors Sept. 3-12. Of the $9,000 needed, about $2,000 has been raised.
Davis is hoping to close in on that goal with two upcoming community events: a fundraising dinner and a Sleeping Beauty dance party for youngsters.
"It's just an amazing opportunity," Davis said. "If she didn't go, she'd regret it all her life."
"Singapore is really far to go," Bella said, "but I definitely feel like it's going to help boost my career and it will be another opportunity to work with some amazing dancers."
Add that to another of Bella's goals: to be able to dance "as long as my body allows me to."
"It's hard to explain if you don't dance," she said, "but I just love it, the moments that you get to perform on stage, those moments where it's just you and the dance and you feel the dance in every part of your body. It's just beautiful."