Connor Hamilton is a dancing queen.
She's danced with the Joffrey Ballet, earned rave reviews from such prestigious publications as Chicago Tribune, received scholarship offers from dance academies all over the world. And she's only 12 years old.
Through her dancing, Hamilton's reached an important lesson most of us didn't learn at her tender age: "Hard work can actually be fun," she said.
This weekend, Hamilton will perform in Youth America Grand Prix's highly acclaimed gala, Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow. (One of those stars is her former teacher from Joffrey Ballet, Fabrice Calmels.)
After playing to sold-out audiences in New York, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Mexico City, this gala performance is coming to the Booth Tarkington Theater at Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts. Hamilton, who won first place in the Youth America Grand Prix competition when she was 10, will be performing a variation from the popular ballet, The Talisman.
Since she is so young, I was curious about her first memory of dancing.
"I remember practicing for my second recital and my dance being a Wizard of Oz theme," she said. "For some reason I don't remember the actual recital though." Probably because she was three years old!
Dancing is essentially all the Hamilton family has known. Connor's father, Ross, danced for Tennessee Ballet back in the '80s. Her older sister, Aubrey, performed alongside her in The Nutcracker, and her younger brother, Justin, dances as well.
Connor's mother, Kelly, didn't do as much dancing. "I took one class when I was three (one year older than Connor was when she started). I cried and my mom never took me back," Kelly said.
Now, Kelly is the driving force behind her children's dancing, chauffeuring them to classes, sewing their shoes and encouraging them all the way.
Connor finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of opportunity and attention — more so than her siblings.
Her 15-year-old sister Aubrey struggles to step out of the surprisingly large shadow Connor cast at a younger age.
"Aubrey is very talented in her own right but has never had the same opportunities as Connor. It's kind of hard on her at times," Kelly said. But like her sister, Aubrey perseveres and continues to practice.
Their little brother, Justin, is glued at the hip with Connor and constantly making up dance routines with her at home. He calls her a celebrity.
In addition to performing in mainstream productions and competing across the globe, she is receiving scholarship offers from top flight schools such as San Francisco Ballet, Ellison Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Zurich Dance Academy in Switzerland.
"For me, the scholarships and attention are a bit overwhelming," Kelly confessed. "I feel nervous sometimes that we will make a mistake or choose the wrong path for her. At the same time, I have so much gratitude for all of the opportunities presented to her. I think we just have to take one step at a time. Connor is very good about knowing what she likes and doesn't like, so her opinion matters a great deal to us. I think we are going to follow her lead."
At the end of the day, despite her quick rise to the top, Connor is a quiet, modest little girl.
When I reached out for a last minute question about how she deals with her success, she was in dance class, hard at work and not dwelling on everything coming her way. So as not to distract Connor, her mother answered for her, saying, "I think if you asked her how she felt about all the scholarships and opportunities, she would just simply smile and say, 'I like it.'"