When a shy little 6-year-old first walked into Jaclyn Moschetta’s dance studio sporting a purple dance outfit and hair pulled back in a bun, Moschetta knew she had something special.
And when Alyssa Guerrieri of Washington showed off her first high kick, her future in dance was sealed.
Moschetta’s instincts proved to be right when Guerrieri won the title of Miss Dance of America 2014 at the Dance Masters of America convention in New Orleans last month.
An 18-year-old graduate of Trinity High School, Guerrieri was an only child growing up. She didn’t always interact well with other children, so her mother, Betty, encouraged her to branch out and try new things. After trying ice skating and other dance studios that just weren’t the right fit, the Guerrieris settled on Moschetta’s Performing Arts Center in Washington.
“She just blossomed,” Betty said, “and I think that nurturing environment of the studio, because it’s that kind of smaller, hometown studio, they truly know each kid and have a vested role in each kid. No matter their talent level, they recognize that, and they nurture it.” Moschetta is Guerrieri’s choreographer, and Moschetta’s mother, Barbara, teaches Guerrieri acrobatics.
Guerrieri’s been dancing since she was 3, but it was a long, hard road before she began to see success.
“Even though she would always have disappointments, she would always come back,” Betty said. “I would say, ‘Do you really want to do this again?’ And she would say, ‘No, I want to do this.’”
A petite and bubbly girl, no one would guess the number of hours Guerrieri put in at dance practice. Because for her, dance is her life. “Pretty much six days a week I dance,” she said. “Sometimes four or eight hours a day. It wasn’t too hard with school because I managed my time well. Last year, Trinity was great about me getting arts release and leaving early. I left at 11:30, so after that, I left school, had lunch and went to dance. Dance is it. It’s always been the number one thing.”
Dancing six days a week and competing has taken a toll on the teenager – both physically and emotionally. Physically, Guerreri has struggled with minor ankle and hip injuries, but she’s kept herself in shape and eats healthy food. “I’m naturally a healthy eater, but desserts, that’s another story,” she said. “I love ice cream, frozen yogurt, chocolate.” Her love for dessert showed up at the Dance Masters of America convention when she went out at midnight every night just to get frozen yogurt across the street.
Besides the physical challenges of dancing, Guerrieri said she faces emotional challenges, too. “Whenever I get up to perform on stage, I always get nervous,” she said. “I think sometimes I’m hard on myself a little bit. I try to make everything exactly perfect, and I know no one’s perfect. That can’t be reached, but I just try to do my best every day to become a better dancer.”
Dancing competitively brings challenges for Guerrieri, but she does find time to indulge in her other passion – watching NFL football. “Every Sunday, which is the only day I have off of dance, we sit down and we watch all the games,” Guerrieri said. “I know a lot of the players, and it’s kind of weird – I study it. It’s just a habit and a hobby that I have and like to do. My grandma’s a huge football fan. My whole family, we’re big football fans.”
Ever since Guerrieri was a little girl, she’s looked up to the dancers who won the title of Miss Dance of America and wanted to be like them. “It’s a blessing and honor for me to actually be it and hold the title,” she said.
“I just went in thinking I was just going to go in and try my best and if it was God’s will for me to win, then that would happen. I just would try my best and hope for the best.”
Competing for the title of Miss Dance of America is a 12-day process, with everything from an interview, jazz and acrobat auditions, to overall talent and contemporary auditions.
“It’s a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old,” Betty said, “but she handled it very well. She was really just herself from beginning to end.”
Moschetta was in shock after she found out her dance student won the title. “I was numb for about an hour,” she said.
“It was like winning the lottery. I had trouble getting to the stage. (I) thought if she was ever going to win, it would be now. She was phenomenal. She’s the most dedicated dancer we ever had.”
Now that she’s graduated, Guerrieri plans to attend Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, majoring in dance and eventually deciding on a second major. While in Los Angeles, she’ll pursue commercial opportunities in dance and modeling.
“I just feel like myself when I’m dancing,” she said. “I don’t think I could live without it. When I was younger, it was just a hobby for me, but now it’s like my life. It defines who I am.”