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The heart of a lion

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By Becca Owsley

By BECCA OWSLEY bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com ELIZABETHTOWN — A local dance student is preparing to shine brightly when she attends Joffrey Ballet School’s ballet intensive in New York City in June. Sara Obata, 13, currently studies at Center Stage Dance Studio in Elizabethtown. In New York she will have the opportunity to study with faculty from Joffrey, American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, along with members of world-renowned contemporary and modern dance companies. Joffrey’s Web site said the ballet intensive is for “young dancers with a minimum three years of ballet experience who love dance and want to immerse themselves in the art of ballet.” Auditions were held in 12 cities across the United States; Obata is one of 25 who were accepted. Obata auditioned last year after persuasion from dance educator Yvonne Groves. She didn’t make it then, but this year was a different story. “I got lucky and got in,” Obata said, modestly. She has studied dance for eight years and sometimes feels there’s something inside her that wants to be a professional dancer. “It was pretty competitive, but I just sometimes felt like everyone should audition,” Obata said. She feels that all those who audition should keep trying until they make it because everyone deserves to keep trying.

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Obata's dance instructors, Groves and Sherry Gilpin, think she’ll have great success. Gilpin stressed the honor Obata has received in this opportunity, to be able to go to New York and audition against girls that are different ages with different techniques. “This girl has talent,” Gilpin said. “She has the heart of a lion, she wants it and that’s part of the battle, to be up there and go get it. I’m extremely proud of her.” Obata’s dedication, positive attitude and willingness to do anything that is asked of her are qualities Groves thinks will take her far in the dance world.  Gilpin joked that if you’re asked to stand on your head and spit nickels while getting dressed, then that’s what you do to make it in the art world. “She’s an excelled technician and she’s just going to get better and better and better,” Groves said. Attitude is also important. “You have to have the right demeanor too," Gilpin said. "You can’t go in there like you own the joint. She’s got the right demeanor, the right work ethic and she’s very cooperative — I think the people at Joffrey will eat her up.” In a two-hour point class, Gilpin has seen Obata’s feet bleed, yet the student continued without uttering a complaint. That’s dedication and love, Gilpin said. With talent now coming out of this community, the studio has seen a lot of success. But the point is for the students to leave the nest. “I’ve always felt like it was very important to give the students the best education that we can, but for them to excel they definitely have to leave these four walls and carry on,” Groves said. Through this experience Obata will get the opportunity to be noticed by some of the best in the field. Many students who are accepted into the program are asked to join the dance company and may leave home to pursue their career at age 13, Groves said. It’s a lot like gymnastics, Gilpin said. Dancers have to get started very young to make a career out of it. “I wouldn’t have made Joffrey if it weren’t for Ms. Yvonne, Ms. Tiffany, Ms. Sherry Gilpin and my friends who have helped me for all these years of dancing,” Obata said. “I always say to myself that you can accomplish anything if you keep trying hard — just keep on trying and something big and exciting may come around that dull little corner.” Groves is proud of Obata and feels she will represent the community well and speak well for the other students enrolled in the school still waiting for their big chance. “We’ll probably see her on the big stage one day, while we’re on our canes and walkers,” Groves said. Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.