Everyone could see it but his grandmother was the first to say it before Neal Burks took the stage.
“Graceful,” said Ingrid Lee. “He was always graceful.”
Gracefully gliding across the floor with all eyes on him, Burks used his graceful, powerful legs to lift himself off the floor and pirouette into a tuck-and-roll move that had his instructor beaming.
“He’s very special,” said Philip Neal, the Artistic Director of the Next Generation Ballet. “There are dancers when you walk in the room and you see them it’s very apparent.”
Burks, along with six other dancers from the Patel Conservatory’s dance group, is off to New York City to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, of the foremost dance competitions for young dancers in the world.
“Just to get to this place he’s already be successful,” said Neal. “He’s very good at setting a goal and achieving it.”
The competition, which began on Friday, begins with 300 or so dancers who all advanced through qualifying competitions to make it to the Big Apple. The field will be whittled down to 40 by the end of the week. It’s a chance for dancers to show off and earn potential scholarship opportunities and even jobs for the future.
“I wasn’t really serious at it at first but when I started doing it more and more I was like, I want to do this as my profession,” said Burks. “So, I wanted to take it wherever it goes. Wherever it takes me.”
Burks, who Lee says is a talented musician as well, is started to open the eyes of the dancing world. But, it’s the woman on the other side of it whom he says he holds in his heart while dancing.
His mother, Makeda Oates, is overseas working with the Air Force and is missing almost every competition.
“Yeah definitely. When she’s not there I definitely wish that she was so she could see me perform,” he said. “I’m happy when she can make it.”
It’s been a few weeks since he’s seen his mom but plans to video chat with her while in New York. He hopes to have a lot of good news to report about his performances.
“I’m proud of where I am today,” he said.
Burks will perform on Tuesday.