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STEPPING FROM THE NEST

A 15-year-old leaves her home for New York City and a dream of dancing.

Sue Geier stood where she has for years last week and felt the same old feeling watching her daughter, the ballerina. On the other side of the glass, the 15-year-old girl gracefully leaped through the air and glided across the dance floor while going up and down "on pointe" in a pair of pink ballet shoes. It was that same soul-tingly feeling she felt when Moriah Geier was 2 years old and, in a diaper, mimicked nearly step-for-step her older sister Rebekah's dance routine. "It still warms my heart," said Geier, 52. But now there's some anxiety mixed in for Sue and her daughter. Moriah, a 10th-grader at Tarpon Springs High School until last week, is leaving the nest much earlier than most children. She has gone to the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet School in New York City.

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With everything in suitcases, Moriah left her family and friends Sunday to fly to New York City to pursue her dream. School started Monday.

"It's been up and down emotionally," Geier said about allowing her daughter to attend the school.

"I know it's the right thing to do, but every other day, I'd wake up and say 'no way.'"

Moriah says she doesn't fear leaving home or the dance studio she loves so dearly - or even having to make new friends. For Moriah, leaving her parents at such a tender age is a necessity. She's focused on one thing: dancing.

"I know I'm going to miss everyone," she said Thursday after finishing her last class at Tarpon Springs' Dance Evolution, where she says her second family resides.

"But I'd rather try it out and not like it than to never go and never know."

Moriah has been dancing practically all her life.

There was the diaper dance at age of 2. There have been dance classes and recitals for as long as the family can remember. She's danced in the Nutcracker, a Christmas ritual for most ambitious and budding ballerinas.

This summer, Moriah auditioned and participated in a six-week program at Joffrey Ballet School. While she danced and gobbled up every new technique she could, school officials were studying her.

After completing the summer dance program and returning to Tarpon Springs, Moriah got the call she wanted.

She had been accepted to the Joffrey Ballet School full time. In addition, she received a scholarship. For the next four years, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., she will be dancing.

Moriah is one of 75 students from around the world to be selected for the school's trainee/preprofessional program, said Alyssa Maksym of the Joffrey Ballet School.

"I'd much rather be dancing all day than sitting in a class," Moriah said, her eyes sparkling with the possibilities.

Academics will come in the form of Florida's Virtual Home School. The program will allow Moriah to complete the Florida's high school curriculum via the Internet.

She will stay with her aunt, her mother's sister, who lives two blocks from Joffrey.

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It's "bittersweet" for Diana Reichardt, who opened Dance Evolutions in 2005, to see one her first students matriculate to one of the world's best ballet schools.

"That's every teacher's dream, to have one of your students dance in New York," said Reichardt, 36, who helped Moriah put together her audition tapes for Joffrey. "I wish I could go with her. I'm gonna cry. But she has a love for ballet."

Reichardt said, when it comes to the genre of ballet, dancers either "love it or hate it."

"It demands perfection," Reichardt said.

"There is never a moment when you are not striving for more, and Moriah has always been one of those people."

Sue Geier said the entire family's emotions have been all over the place in recent weeks. But talking through the decision with her daughter, she said, "When the emotions settle, Moriah never once ever imagined herself not doing this."

"We have to follow through with this," Geier said. "Why put it off? Go explore now and don't do what people tell you is supposed to happen. This is an opportunity that may not come again."

Yes, she's a bit nervous about making her mother and father, Larry, empty-nesters at such an early age.

Sister Rebekah, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Florida. But the love of dance is Moriah's overriding emotion.

"I love everything about it," Moriah said. "I just always feel the need to dance. It just makes me happy."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

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