Dancing her way to distinction

Karsen Gresham, a Bradley Middle School eighth-grader, can't remember a time when she wasn't dancing. She began training at the Charlotte Ballet Academy at three years old and has studied dance at school since the sixth grade. Karsen has also entered the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Reflections program since kindergarten. Reflections is an arts recognition and achievement program that encourages students to create original works of art inspired by the contest theme each year.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Karsen was among the tens of thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools overseas who contributed original works for consideration. That year's theme, "What is Your Story" was explored in six categories: dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts. Her piece titled "My Story" won a national award of excellence in dance choreography.

"It is very exciting because I want to have a career in dance," said Karsen.

A panel of arts and education experts judged the 1,042 national submissions, selecting 206 works for exhibition. Karsen's piece was the only one from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chosen for the exhibit. The exhibit began Jan. 16 at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. It will close on Feb. 23 and travel to New Orleans to be featured at the 2018 National PTA Convention and Expo, June 21-24.

"It is a great opportunity to showcase how I express myself through dance," she said. "If I'm having a bad day, I dance and forget about it."

The inspiration for her winning piece came from her progression as a dancer.

"What I am doing now is so much more advanced than when I started," she said. "I love contemporary because it combines ballet and lyrical styles. It allows you to really showcase different skills and emotions."

When Karsen isn't dancing, she is swimming.

"Swimming balances out my body. It helps me stretch, relax, lengthen and strengthen my muscles."

What's next? She has landed a role in her school's musical Fame Jr. as Iris Kelly, a talented, graceful ballet dancer who often comes across as snobbish and mean because of her insecurities.

"Auditioning for a dance musical made sense. I was very happy when the drama teacher and play director cast me as Iris Kelly. It'll be fun and challenging to play someone who is very different from my personality," she said. "It'll be a great learning experience."