Ten choreographers under the age of 19 put months of preparation, planning and practice into creating a dance for a live audience and cast of celebrity judges. In the end, Desert Vista student Jessica Symmes took home first prize at the Next Generation of Fine Arts Young Choreographers Competition.

“It was such a great experience for all of us to grow not only as choreographers but dancers,” Symmes, 16, said. “It was such a privilege to take part in such a real competition.”

Symmes choreographed a dance to the song “How Sweet It Is.” She said she first heard the song when her mother sang it to her grandmother in hospice. She used that image as her inspiration and dedicated her piece to her parents.

“I quickly realized that it doesn’t have to be about a boy,” she said. “It can be about a mother, father, grandparent, sister, friend, anyone appreciated for their love. As a young choreographer I found it more genuine to choreograph pieces I’ve experienced myself. I was able to relate to the piece and so were my dancers. That was a big thing. Everything just clicked.”

It was not the first time Symmes has had a chance to showcase her choreography. She said she has prepared dances for the Desert Vista Dance Company and has also choreographed dances for her middle school dance program. This was, however, her first time entering the Young Choreographers Competition. She did participate last year as a dancer.

“I was excited to get critiqued from the judges because that allowed me to grow,” she said. “I was excited to get feedback to make my choreography better and better.”

The competition was judged by Brian Friedman, Matt Fata and Megan Branch, last year’s winner. In the end the critique wasn’t too harsh. The judges told Symmes her dance felt real. She said she could feel the love from the crowd.

“It was amazing how much energy and happiness we got from the crowd,” she said. “You could feel it. It was such a supportive audience.”

Symmes won a $1,000 cash prize, which she plans to put toward college, and a 9-month scholarship to Dance Studio 111. She has been invited to perform as a solo dancer at the Taste of Kyrene Friday, Feb. 28.

Avery Katharine Rehkow, age 12, took second place with her dance to “Only Hope.” She won $500 cash and a six-month dance scholarship which she split among each of her dancers. Karina Baker, age 17, took third place with her routine, “Young and Beautiful.” She won $250 and a three-month scholarship.

The competition was started by Kimberly Lewis, owner of Dance Studio 111. For more information on the competition visit www.nextgenerationoffinearts.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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