In the competetive world of ballet, Ferndale 16-year-old Mikaila Downing stands out.
She has recently been accepted into a prestigious dance school in New York City. If she is able to go, she'll be packing up her bags in January and heading off to pursue her dream.
The big city might seem daunting for the hometown teen, but her mom, Heather Downing, knows Mikaila is pursuing her dream and will thrive. This is her chance to make it big.
But that's if she's able to go. Downing, a single mother of five who also watches her oldest daughter's grandson full-time, can't manage the $12,000 tuition without help.
Mikaila and her mom are reaching out to the community with the hope people will take an interest in helping make a dream come true.
Mikailia, who has been dancing since age 3, has been accepted into the Gelsey Kirkland Acadmy. Also a talented artist, she's selling her prints online to help raise money for her tuition.
Attending the school would mean the chance to study full-time under the direction of famed ballerina Gelsey Kirkland herself - who Downing says is like the "Steve Yzerman" of the ballet world. This ballet school is particularly hard to get into, she said, and if Mikaila doesn't go now, she might miss her chance.
"It's just really a huge opportunity," Downing said. "It's really the type of thing that you need to be doing at this point if you have any aspiration to be a professional ballerina."
Downing recognized that the cost is high - "like college tuition."
"It's the dancer's version of college. You have to start younger because it's a physical activity," she said. "It's a really highly competitive, expensive world to be a part of. But on the other hand, it's a terrific thing to be able to do if you have the talent for it."
Downing hates feeling like a beggar - "Everybody's feeling the pinch these days," she said.
"We've gone through some struggles in my own family. It's been a difficult time and I know a lot of families in Ferndale like that," she said.
But she knows she has to try.
"[Mikaila] just has something of a gift and so it's kind of hard to just entertain the idea to not do everything that we can try," she said. "I just feel like it's maybe worth stepping out of the box in a way for something like this. There is sort of a time limit ... another year without that kind of rigorous training might just then be too late."
Though it breaks her heart to not be able to take care of the tuition on her own, she has been uplifted by the community's support, she said.
Mikaila, who is currently a junior at Ferndale High School, would complete her general education coursework online while attending the ballet academy.
Though she is anxious for the opportunities ahead, Mikaila understands the challenges of trying to achieve a professional ballet career, Downing says.
"She realizes that making it in the ballet world is really tough. She's been very good about keeping up the academic side of things," she said.
Mikaila has already traveled to NYC for summer intensive programs - like "boot camps for ballerinas," Downing says - at the academy, and she has loved her time in New York.
Despite being very shy, Mikaila is "oddly very comfortable in New York," Downing says.
She also knows her daughter would love the opportunity to study with other girls in her position. "There's this camaraderie," she said. "Everybody understands each other."
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