Strutting their stuff at a national competition in New York City, young Tucson Dance Academy dancers wowed judges and put the 5-year-old studio on the map.
The academy was among more than 100 dance studios from around the country to compete in the New York City Dance Alliance National Season Finale June 29-July 6.
The Tucson group was one of four to win the National Junior Critics' Choice Award, the judges' highest honor for dancers age 12 and younger. The academy received a trophy and $2,500.
Tom Booth, who owns Tucson Dance Academy with his wife, Tammy, said the success at the competition is the culmination of a half-decade's worth of dreams and dedication.
"To go to New York City and win the Critics' Choice Award, it means five years of effort and blood, sweat and tears have come to fruition," he said.
"This is really something beautiful. Something unexpected. It means that Tucson has a dance academy that is on par with any studio in the country."
The studio, at 2850 W. Ina Road, has a 15-member staff that trains more than 400 dancers at the 8,300-square-foot facility.
The academy qualified for the national competition after advancing through regional competitions in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Thirty-two dancers ages 8 to 17 made the trip to represent the academy.
Tammy choreographed the winning number, "Korbushka," which blended jazz, tumbling, ballet and lyrical dance styles.
An alternate on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Tammy performed as a Rockette and has appeared in several films, including "Teen Wolf Too."
Soloist Justine Hannan, a 14-year-old who will enter Ironwood Ridge High School in August, was second runner-up for the Outstanding Dancer award in the teen division, placing third out of 111 competitors.
"I'm pretty used to it. I have been dancing since I was 3 and competing since I was 9, so it was really not that nerve-racking and really more fun to perform in front of a ton of people," she said.
Hannan said she wasn't sure of her chances going into the competition.
"I actually had no idea that I would do that well, because there are so many good people around the country," she said, noting that she had trained for three hours a day, six days a week, leading up to the event.
"I could never imagine doing this well. It was a shock to me, I guess. All my hard work paid off."
Hannan hopes to dance professionally as an adult.
Angela Wright, a University Medical Center nurse who lives in Marana, was pleased to see her daughter, 10-year-old Kyra, perform "Korbushka."
"We were excited and overjoyed," Angela said. "There was so much hard work and it was great to see it pay off."
Kyra practiced 14 hours a week for the competition.
"There's really nothing else she would rather do," her mother said. "It teaches her so much. If they don't win, it teaches them how to lose gracefully. If they do win, it teaches them how to be appreciative and humble. And there's the dedication of being here all the time. She chooses to miss other things that are going on to be here. The studio teaches the kids good morals. I really couldn't ask for a greater place to be."
Kyra, who is entering fifth grade at Picture Rocks Intermediate, said succeeding at the competition has been a lifelong dream.
"It feels really nice," she said. "I always wanted to win at the national level. It's because I love to do it, and it's just fun to dance."
Kyra said a return to New York may be in the cards because she "kind of" wants to dance on Broadway.
Booth said the academy encourages such dreams.
"I'm really proud of these kids, and of course, our instructors," Tom Booth said. "This really is something."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org