First grader dances on to county finals

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

Karsen Gresham is proud to show her trophies and medals after years of hard work. At just 6 years old, she has been dancing for four years. She sits with her mom, Debbie, a dance instructor at Bradley Middle School.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Mountain Island Elementary first grader Karsen Gresham does not hesitate: “A sugar plum fairy.”

At just 6 years old, Karsen is an accomplished dancer, and dreams of one day joining the whimsical characters in the cast of the Nutcracker ballet. Of course, the way things are going, she won’t have to wait until she’s a “grown up.”

Karsen donned her first dance slippers at age 2, and already has an impressive collection of medals and trophies. Among them is her plaque from the PTA Reflections arts-recognition competition she won as a kindergartener last year.  Her dance choreography entry won at both the county and state levels of competition.
This year, she hopes for a similar result. Her entry is headed to the county level of competition this week.

In keeping with this year’s Reflections theme, “Together we can,” Karsen begins her performance with her artist statement, “Together we can keep our oceans beautiful by picking up trash and keeping the animals safe.” She then proceeds to improvise an impressive combination of dance movements to the song, “Make a Wave,” by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas.

Her dance style in the Reflections entry is lyrical, which is a combination of ballet and jazz moves with a contemporary, modern feel.

“She has a movement vocabulary that probably most first graders probably would not have,” Karsen’s mother, Debbie Gresham, said. Gresham teaches dance at Francis Bradley Middle School and also leads the Reflections Program at Mountain Island Elementary.

“(Reflections) is a great opportunity for kids that excel in the arts to be recognized for their art form,” she said.

The Reflections program is an annual arts competition for students in preschool through 12th grade to support arts education. Each year, students are encouraged to submit to their local Parent-Teacher Association original works in dance, film, literature, music, photography or the visual arts based on the year’s selected theme. More than 500,000 students participate through their local PTAs each year.

Works are judged at the local level and the winning entries advance to the council, district, and state PTA levels. Top state award–winning entries advance to the national level of judging.

Last year, Karsen and her mom traveled to the North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, for the Reflections state finals.

“I was just excited she got to be on campus and see it’s a place she might want to go someday,” Gresham said.

And Karsen’s drive to succeed might just take her there someday. She loves to win, and is always trying to improve. Sometimes, she asks her mom, dad, Kris, and older brothers, Hayden and Tanner, to watch her do performances in their living room and critique her.

And all her hard work pays off. She is particularly proud of her double-platinum trophy from a Showstoppers east coast dance competition last year. “I beat an 8-year-old,” she said.

But while Karsen loves to win, winning isn’t everything for her. Her first love simply is to dance.  And she is preparing now for a busy couple of months of competition.  Her full schedule of dance practice at Dance Productions in Charlotte, gymnastics class at Everest in Huntersville and travel to competitions doesn’t seem to phase her, as long as she can dance. “It gives me a lot of energy,” she said, “and I like being with my friends.”

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