Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Eva Nys Photography

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ot everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up at three years old. However, 14-year-old North Scottsdale resident Avery Gay knew from the second she stepped out on stage for her first ballet recital that dancing was not only her journey, but also her destination.

“She was on stage for five minutes, and the whole summer after that she would not let it rest,” Avery’s mother Elizabeth said. “She begged to get back on the stage. I thought she was going to get over it. I kept saying, ‘You’ll get to do it next May.’ But that wasn’t good enough for her. She said that was too long.”

Gay initially believed her daughter’s interest in dance was just a phase, but she indulged her anyway, enrolling Avery into Centre Stage Dance Studio in Scottsdale. Avery quickly expanded her dance repertoire to include hip-hop, jazz and even musical theater.

For a while, Avery aspired to be a principal ballerina. However, after hearing stories from those who had followed that career path complain about how difficult the ballerina’s lifestyle is, she started to pursue other aspects of professional concert dance—particularly a ballet and contemporary fusion.

It was not until Gay saw her daughter dance during Phoenix Suns and Globetrotters halftime shows and at the Arizona State Fair that the North Valley mother realized how serious Avery was about her “hobby.”

“Her father wasn’t really buying into it as soon as I was,” added Gay, explaining that her husband was concerned about the financial expense. “We were members of a country club and we ended our membership because we were spending so much money on traveling and dance. The family made it a priority to let her follow her dreams.”

The moment that encouraged the parents to put all hands on deck for their daughter’s dance career ocurred in 2015, when Avery—at 10 years old—won Mini Division Best Dancer at the Dance Awards in Las Vegas. She has since earned numerous other achievements in competitions, including a gold medal during the 2017 Youth America Grand Prix.

“I had a lot of people tell me when she was very young that she was going to be a really big influence in dance someday and that she was going to be a star,” Gay said. “I didn’t think that I would be a full-time manager to my daughter, but I’m happy to do that because I see how passionate she is about it. Avery has had more opportunities in the 14 years that she’s been alive than most professional dancers.”

Those opportunities include appearances on several television shows, including NBC’s “Little Big Shots” and “World of Dance,” and FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Avery found the experiences somewhat challenging, especially because the reflective stages used on the shows are not conducive to dancing in pointe shoes—but she learned a lot from the experiences.

“Now I feel like I can dance on any platform,” said Avery, adding that the shows’ producers also challenged her by constantly changing the music to which she would be dancing. “In ballet, you can’t just change the music and have the same exact moves. You have to change the moves along with the music.”

As a result, Avery had to often come up with choreography in a relatively short amount of time. That, too, pushed her to up her game—as did the skill levels of the other dancers against which she would be competing.

“I got to work with so many amazing producers and teachers,” said Avery, noting she has also made a number of new friends along the way. “We got to come up with so many new movements that we never thought we could come up with because we were so challenged by all the other competitors.”

Speaking of challenges, Avery has also had to balance her dance career with education. She attended Grayhawk Elementary before being homeschooled for seventh and eighth grades in order to accommodate her dance lessons. She is now a freshman at Pinnacle High School, taking four classes a day on campus and supplementing that with two online courses.

“I love going to school because I love being social,” said Avery adding that she appreciates not only the opportunity to meet new people but also the ability to interact with teachers. “Everything is going to be challenging with my schedule, but I love how it’s going so far.”

Avery’s mother sees how busy her daughter is but said she takes it all in stride. She credits dance with teaching Avery discipline and helping her handle such a structured schedule from 7:30 a.m until 8 p.m. each day.

“It’s a lot of hard work on her part,” explained Gay, noting her daughter is currently enrolled in Russian Ballet Academy at Club Dance Studio in Queen Creek. “She has a great team around her and a lot of people giving her positive reinforcement, but she’s really the one that pushes herself to take on all of these challenges and opportunities. She just likes to be the best at what she does.”

Avery agrees with her mother’s assessment, noting that she sees herself as her biggest competition—even as her parents encourage her to take the occasional break in order to spend time with her friends and just enjoy being a kid.

“I want to be better than myself every single time I step out on stage,” said Avery, noting she is motivated by the reactions from the people who are moved by the stories she tells through her performances. “I want to improve daily. If I just keep beating myself every single day, then I will be more successful. I just look forward and keep training until the next event.”

Avery’s ultimate goal is to attend the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. She is drawn to the school due to its recent hiring of world-renowned dancer and choreographer, William Forsythe, as artistic advisor.

“USC’s dance program is very strong and I think that it would be a perfect fit,” Avery explained. “I want to perform many places. I want to travel the world and [attend] many galas. I love competing but I love just performing for people even more.”

And Avery has definitely continued performing in the meantime, having attended seven galas last year alone. Most recently, she traveled to Canberra, Australia to not only dance, but also to teach two master classes.

Avery is passionate about a fundraiser she has started in which she sells leotards that have been donated to her, with proceeds benefiting Danza Téllez’s Danza que de Esperanza—a philanthropy in Los Cabos, Mexico that provides underprivileged children with education, nutrition and formal dance training.

Avery believes dance will enhance the lives of those children as much as it has her own. The enrichments she has received from dance include the talent to communicate better through body language and the ability to express herself more freely.

“You get to express many emotions,” Avery said. “I love being emotional and dramatic. That’s why I love dancing so much. It’s a safe place to throw all of your emotions out there. I own it all out on stage or even just in a rehearsal room. Dancing has taught me how to be more open and more out there.”