Kristin Cowger doesn't remember what made her want to start ballet lessons at age 4.
Her parents told her that she was one of those kids that was always dancing around the house. When her fourth birthday came, the prospect of taking lessons made her more excited than any presents she received.
Now, at age 15, that same love and excitement have not wavered, and have led Cowger to make a very conscious decision about her future.
Kristin Cowger, 15, of Hollidaysburg will spend the next school year studying at the Harid Conservatory, dancing for 5 hours each day after normal high school classes.
"I just know this is what I want to do when I grow up," she said.
Kristin of Hollidaysburg has been taking lessons with the Allegheny Ballet Company since that tender age. But after participating in several intensive summer programs since age 12, she was recently accepted into the Harid Conservatory, a full-time high school for gifted ballet dancers with professional dreams.
Kristin will leave behind family and friends to start her sophomore year at the conservatory, located in Boca Raton, Fla.
"I'm very excited because here, dance is just kind of the afterthought to school and homework," she said, adding that she will take high school classes in the morning and dance classes for five hours each afternoon. "There, it's like the main part of my day."
Kristin was accepted to the school after an extensive audition process during this summer, and all students who attend receive tuition scholarships. She was one of only 37 dancers accepted for the upcoming academic year, and said she's excited to work with and learn from the best of the best.
"When you bring all of the best into one classroom, it just makes you a better dancer," she said.
In the past, Kristin has attended summer intensives in Sarasota Springs, N.Y., Seattle and New York City. But she said her training at ABC is the "main reason" she's come this far.
"They've trained me so well," she said. "I have the right education and everything I need to make it as a ballet dancer."
Cristin Burwell, who's been an instructor at ABC since 2000, has been teaching Kristin since that first ballet class she took. She said she's very happy that the cute little 4-year-old she remembers has grown into such a disciplined and accomplished dancer.
"In the classroom and as a student, Kristin is one of those kids who is always motivated and has a positive attitude," she said. "It's not a surprise she's been able to do so well. ... She basically has the whole package, which is what it takes."
Being accepted to Harid is a "wonderful opportunity" that Kristin has "worked her tail off" for, Burwell said. She plans to stay in contact with Kristin and follow her career after she leaves ABC.
"It's always really bittersweet for me [when a dancer leaves] because I'm so happy they've accomplished their goals, but I don't get to walk in and see them every day," she said. "I really grow to love them as people."
Kristin's father, Dave, agreed that it will be hard having her move so far away.
"I'm sure we'll be earning some frequent flyer mileage to come down and see her," he said.
Dave Cowger said he and Kristin's mother, Brenda, are very proud to have watched her develop her dance skills over the years. He added that she "has a gift" for dance that expands to coming up with choreography and learning routines almost instantly.
"I think she's probably in the right field," he said. "When she gets on stage, you can really see she is having fun when she's dancing. I think that comes through to the audience, and they like her and want her to succeed because they see she is having fun."
Kristin will take the stage with the ABC one last time before leaving for school. She will participate in ABC's Summer Showcase at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Wolf-Kuhn Theatre at the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts at Penn State Altoona.
Joined by ABC alumni who have moved on to professional companies, Burwell said the showcase is also a good chance for the local audience to see students like Kristin perform "before they become famous."
"It's a phenomenal chance to see what kids can do in this day and age when they really apply themselves," she added.
Tickets for the summer showcase are $20 and available at ABC studios, 1003 N. Fourth Ave., Suite D, Altoona. Call 941-9944 for more information.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.