Lenexa, Kan. -- Competitive dance. It's an electrifying mix of artistry and athleticism, combining many different dance styles. This week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achievers are world class competitive dancers -- coming home in glory from an international showcase in Australia.
There are many fine young competitive dancers training at the Starstruck Performing Arts Center in Lenexa, but none better than an exquisite trio that has catapulted to the top. Haly Zimmerman, 10, is a natural talent with superb athleticism.
"I just love the feeling of getting to express my emotions throughout my entire body and just letting the audience feel it with me," says Haley.
Thirteen-year-old Katie McCluskey oozes showmanship and has worked hard to become a master of technique.
"I'm like a whole other person on stage," says Katie. "I usually just think of it as my time to be up there and I want to show everyone what I can do and I just want them to like it."
And Molly Hofer is a nine year old sprite, smart as a whip and a perfectionist.
"I always think about having fun and I just perform my best," says Molly. And I still think about my corrections but I really want everyone to like it and I want to have fun."
They may be young but they are already seasoned competitive dance veterans with years of training and performing experience. They are poised, confident, strong and skilled.
"They have everything they need," says Erin Lustig, Starstruck PAC director. "They have the talent. The have the self-discipline. They have the love for it. And it's all there."
And they have the dedication -- devoting many hours a week to lessons and rehearsals at Starstruck PAC and practice at home. It's paid off.
"In the States at competition, they are at the top of their age category," says Lustig.
Indeed, last summer, at Rainbow National Dance Finals in Wisconsin, Katie, Haley and Molly all won "Dancer of the Year" honors in their age divisions. That earned the girls an expenses-paid trip to Australia in January to compete against hundreds of other youth champions from around the world in the Showcase Talent Competition Battle of the Countries.
"And I was like, 'Did I really just win this? Is this a game?'" says Haley. "And then when I got there, I was like, 'This has to be a dream. I can't really be in Australia.'"
The other girls echo that. They didn't quite know what to expect in Australia -- didn't know how good the other countries' champions would be. They wanted to have fun and they hoped to do well. Boy, did the do well. Dazzling the judges in solo, duet and trio performances, the girls shocked even themselves, each finishing second in their age divisions.
"To say you are second in the world is pretty awesome," says Lustig. "All three of these kids coming from the same place is kind of unheard of. We've never had anything happen like this."
"Once I saw everyone in Australia, my mind was blown," says Katie. "It was an honor just to be on stage. And to win, it was just cherry on top."
"I was so blessed that I got this opportunity to go all the way to Australia," says Molly. "And then when I performed, I felt really good about it. And I was so happy I finished second."
For these dynamic artist-athletes, it was the experience of a lifetime-- that will shape the rest of their lives.
"I think they realize how good they are," says Starstruck PAC Instructor Jessica Morrow. "I think it's a huge self-confidence boost. It's opened up their eyes to what dance can bring them."
"To place second out of the world is just amazing," says Haley. "And I was like, 'Holy Cow! I actually did this!'"
What makes the girls' performances in Australia all the more impressive is that most of the other dancers there were at the end of their competitive seasons. Katie, Haley and Molly have had a big lull since their national competition last summer and have yet to start their new season.
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for
Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.