OLDSMAR — Lindsey Norton practiced for months to compete with International Dance Organization's USA Dance Team in the 2010 World Championship junior jazz and modern divisions.
And it paid off.
Lindsey, the daughter of Steve and Judy Norton of Oldsmar, won two gold medals at the competition earlier this month in Mikolajki, Poland.
"It was the best experience I've ever had in my life," said Lindsey, 15. "Everything from my dancing to how they dance in Europe to making new friends was amazing. Being overseas was really, really cool."
Twenty-four countries sent 3,000 competitors this year. Lindsey competed against 35 jazz dance solo females in the junior category and 37 modern dance solo junior females. Her audition for a spot on the team last summer put her up against 520 jazz and 435 modern dancers. She was one of three chosen for the team.
"It was so exciting," said Lindsey's mother, Judy. "We had a wonderful trip. I was able to sit down with others on the USA team and I got to know the head coach of the Canadian and German teams. Linz danced beautifully."
The East Lake High School sophomore qualified by performing her two-minute and 14-second modern dance solo, entitled, "Deep."
Though she felt prepared from 20 hours a week of practice, the European competition in Poland was unique.
"In the U.S., you dance once and get your score," Lindsey said. "In Europe, you dance and if they like it, they move you to the semifinals. You dance again for the finals. You have to dance your solo three times. It was really cool to perform in a European dance competition instead of the usual style."
According to the program, the International Modern Dance Festival was first held at the Hotel Golebiewski in Mikolajki, Poland, in 2001. That year 450 dancers participated.
"It was incredible, the whole thing," Lindsey said. "The modern competition was really, really, really tough. I didn't at all think I'd win. There were two Russian girls who were absolutely amazing. They got second and third place. I still can't believe it."
There was a sad note. According to Lindsey, three weeks before the competition, a U.S. dance formation of 23 dancers from the New York area, had its sponsor back out. The dancers could not afford the trip. According to Judy, a basic no-frills trip would have cost about $3,000 each.
"We were expecting this big USA team and there were only five of us to represent the U.S.," Lindsey said. "It was weird at first."
What turned weird to fun came in the form of competitors swapping little pins from their countries. Lindsey brought 150 American flag pins and swapped them for pins from South Africa, Finland, Poland and Russia. Toward the end of the competition, she began giving pins away.
"With only five of us from the U.S., the countries came to talk to us to talk and look for pins," Lindsey said. "Japan was so excited to get a pin. An American flag pin was such a big deal."
Once Lindsey checked her cell phone at the airport on the way home, she understood how many dancers she had truly connected with in Poland.
"I made friends from South Africa and Slovenia, Canada, Norway and everywhere," said Lindsey. "After the nine-hour plane ride, I had 20 friend requests. Now we'll all be friends on Facebook."