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By Stacy Chandler
The News Observer
Photograph by  Siggul/VAM
February 27, 2012

Cameron McCune has come a long way from the kid who suffered through ballet class because his mom signed him up and made him go. Somewhere along the way, Cameron, 16, learned to love ballet, and that love – along with considerable skill – helped him dance his way to a spot in the Youth America Grand Prix competition finals in New York City in April.

He cleared the last hurdle for the prestigious contest last month in the regional semifinals in Philadelphia, where he had to perform three short pieces for a panel of judges – “big names in the dance world,” he said, who were looking for artistry as well as technical prowess.

Cameron, a student at Raleigh School of Ballet, admitted to feeling nervous before arriving in Philadelphia, since this was his first major competition. But as he warmed up backstage, a heavy dose of confidence kicked in. “I was just eager. I was really excited, actually, rather than nervous,” Cameron said. “Once I went on stage, all the pieces went almost the best they’d ever gone. Which was amazing for me. I was really happy with my performance.”

Walking offstage, the good vibes continued, he said. “I’d accomplished my goal for myself because I’d performed to my best ability and I just knew that no matter what place I got, I was really happy with my performance,” he said.

But as it happened, he got first place in the Senior Men’s Division (ages 15-19), which means he’ll have to step up the pace of rehearsals between now and the finals in April. And it’s not like he’s taking it easy now.

He attends a class every afternoon at Raleigh School of Ballet that can last three or four hours, sometimes more. Several times a week he works with his coach, Gyula Pandi, a former Hungarian National Ballet dancer who now lives in Winston-Salem. And then, because ballet – especially for men – is as much about athleticism as it is artistry, he hits the gym three times a week.

Of course, all this has to fit in around schoolwork – after ninth grade, when his dance schedule intensified, Cameron switched to homeschooling – but he’s not complaining. At least, not anymore.

“The funny thing was when I first started it, I really couldn’t stand it,” Cameron said, laughing, about starting ballet at age 6, when his mom wanted to involve him in a physical activity. “I didn’t like doing it all. But after a couple years, it sort of grew on me until I started to love doing it so much.”

Around fifth grade, he said, “something kind of clicked. I started to enjoy being on stage, and I started to enjoy the classes a lot more,” he said. “I started watching ballet videos of other male dancers and stuff. It kind of made me feel inspired and it started just to grow from there, and it still hasn’t stopped. I still love it more and more because I’m starting to experience so many different things with it, so it’s just made it incredible.”

The next big experience, of course, will be the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York. Cameron knows there’s a lot of work ahead to prepare, but his outlook is purely positive.

For the finals, he said, “it’s more about the experience, and having fun dancing and performing. Because that’s the main goal, that’s why people do it: for the sake of loving it and enjoying it. So for the finals I’m not that nervous about it. I’m going to just go up there and have the best time possible.”

© Copyright 2012, The News & Observer Publishing Company

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