Right under the noses of the Spring Hill community, there is a budding dynasty in the works at Erin's Danceworks under the tutelage of studio coach and owner Erin Messaris.
In the past three years, the local dance studio has walked away from the Dance America State Competition with a Dancer of the Year award in hand. In 2006, Taylor Storey started the trend, and Brooke Mooney followed that last year.
Both those times, Sarah Lewandowski, 13, was in the background as runner-up to her two friends and training partners. In fact, Lewandowski had been runner-up in the Dancer of the Year competition three times, and naturally, she wondered when, if ever, would she break through to the spotlight.
She didn't realize how close it actually was.
"I've worked so hard for the past three years because I've wanted it so bad," Lewandowski said. "I was very happy for (Taylor and Brooke) when they won, but it made me work that much harder for when I got my shot."
This month, the Dance America State Competition was held at the Lake Buena Vista Palace in Orlando. Lewandowski once again qualified for the Dancer of the Year competition with a superb score in the qualifying regional competition.
Although the award is established at the state competition, the field includes 80-100 other dancers from all over the country and even some from Canada and Mexico. As a part of the scoring, entrants went through an interviewing process with judges and testing. The entrants also learned a large number from a master choreographer. These things are all taken into consideration along with the solo score before the winner is named.
"Not only did Sarah compete at a higher age level for her solo than she had to," Messaris said, "but she was a big part of the (Dancer of the Year) production."
When the dust settled, it was Lewandowski who rose to the top in the Junior Division (11-14 years old). The win made it three in three years for Erin's Danceworks. She will now have to wait two years before she can compete in the Dancer of the Year competition again at the Senior Division (15 and older) since the rules state dancers cannot repeat as champions in the same age level.
The one characteristic about Lewandowski that stands out to her coaches and parents is her maturity. Only in middle school at Challenger K-8, Lewandowski takes her dancing very seriously and is already looking forward to translating her skills into a possible ticket to a college education.
"Most kids her age aren't worried about this kind of stuff," Messaris said. "Colleges like to see it when dancers start so young."
She aims high because she knows no other way to aim, making up her mind within the last few months that her goal is to attend the Juilliard School in New York once she graduates from high school. She is undoubtedly on the right path to do so right now.
Lewandowski strolled into Bright Beginnings Preschool at 4 years old. The preschool, owned by Messaris' mother, Denise Gill, encourages the students to take part in the dance classes.
"She fell in love (with the teachers), and she fell in love with dance," Barb Lewandowski, Sarah's mother, said. "The discipline of dance keeps her grounded, and that has made her a better person."
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