LAKE TWP.  Two students at Lake Center Christian School were among nine Canton Ballet dancers awarded dance scholarships at the Regional Dance America Northeast Festival recently held in in Erie, Pa.

Freshman Leah Mellinger was awarded a $1,295 scholarship to Charlottesville Ballet of Charlottesville, Va., and senior Natalie Schmitt was awarded $1,525 scholarship to Ballet Magnificat of Jackson, Miss. Executive and artistic director Cassandra Crowley said the Canton Ballot has been participating in the festival since the 1970s.

“A judge comes to our studio to watch private performances and then selects whether to send a company to the festival,” Crowley said. “The individual performers are awarded the scholarships at the festival. I bring in professional choreographers each year to help the company develop a performance. The company is judged on excellence in choreography, costumes, techniques and performance quality.”

Crowley said its important for the dancers to participate in the festival for a number of reasons. She said the festival is held at different locations each year, so it gives some of the dancers the chance to travel.

“Meeting other companies allows the dancers to compare their performance to others, they all have a chance to network with other dancers and they get exposure to professionals in dance,” Crowley said.

Ages of the dancers start at 12 or 13 and go to those who are seniors in high school. Crowley said the festival is well attended, organized and they have great teachers and performances each year.

Lake Center Christian Freshman Leah Mellinger

“I like to dance because I like to become the music and make my body move to the music, it makes me feel alive,” Mellinger said.

Mellinger, who is 13 and is an incoming freshman, said that while she appreciated the opportunity of being awarded a scholarship, she isn’t planning to attend the Charlottesville Ballet.

“I do plan to continue with the Canton Ballet, but I don’t think I’ll make dance my career, although it may be an option," she said. "I also play several instruments and I like to write so those could also be a part of my future."

Mellinger said she was excited and honored to have been awarded the scholarship and the opportunity to perform.

“When they called my name, I was excited because it’s such an honor and because it was the first time I’ve ever received a scholarship. I really appreciated the opportunity,” Mellinger said.

She thanked her parents for being supportive of her and for driving her to all of her practices.

Lake Center Christian Senior Natalie Schmitt

Schmitt is 17 and is a senior at Lake Center Christian. She attended her scholarship to Ballet Magnificat of Jackson, Miss., during the month of July. She received a full scholarship for four weeks of study.

She said she is motivated and encouraged to dance by her teachers.

“I get excited to be able to share what I’ve learned when I perform in front of an audience, my parents and my brother, dance is a way to express at story,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt believes that dance will probably be a hobby for her in her future plans and is looking at going into the medical field for a career. She has won other awards in the past including the scholarship to Ballet Magnificat.

“It’s exciting to receive recognition for hard work and practice,” Schmitt said.

She thanked executive and artistic director Cassandra Crowley, assistant artistic director Jennifer Catazaro Hayward and Angelo Lemmo, who is the resident choreographer at Canton Ballet.