When Julia DeFoor puts on her dance shoes and performs pirouettes and arabesques across the marley dance floor at Conyers School of Ballet, for her, the outside world falls away.
"I think my attitude changes. I can really ignore a lot of stuff that's going on. It puts you in a different state of mind," DeFoor said.
The Covington resident's 14 years of dedication to dancing recently paid off when the Charleston Ballet Theater accepted her as a trainee. The 16-year old will train with the company until the fall when she expects to be accepted as an apprentice.
Apprenticeships generally lead to full-time company positions.
Conyers School of Ballet Executive Director Judy Mauran said DeFoor is the third of her students, in the three decades since she's run the school, to dance professionally.
Mauran said it's not often that a student builds a career in dance, whether that be actually dancing or working in an area connected to dance such as teaching, costuming or physical therapy.
"One in 250 end up in any phase that can be remotely considered dance, so it's very rare," Mauran said.
Mauran said DeFoor's talents emerged early.
"She walked up to the bar and stood at the bar and you could tell she had beautiful carriage, even at 4 or 5, and that's great and a wonderful thing, but she has also worked really hard as well. Talent is only a starting point," Mauran said.
A home-schooled student, DeFoor enrolled in ballet at age 4, lured by the prospect of becoming a ballerina.
"It was really exciting. I liked class. I was always one of those kids who liked school. I really enjoyed it and I knew I wanted to be a dancer," DeFoor said.
Since the age of 10, DeFoor has attended summer intensives with companies including the Joffrey Ballet in New York, the Atlanta Ballet and the Charleston Ballet Theater. She can perform several dance forms including ballet, jazz, tap and modern.
Mauran said DeFoor's technique is careful and precise.
"She pays attention to the details and she has a lovely manner, a really nice presence and it's always there and she works at it," Mauran said.
DeFoor's mother, Darlene DeFoor, said her daughter appreciates her talent and applies herself to be the best she can.
"She just amazes me. She comes out of class and is dripping wet," Darlene said.
Darlene said having the Charleston Ballet Theater extend an invitation to her daughter to train with the company came as a surprise but that her daughter is driven when it comes to dance.
"She has a lot of ambition and I'm sure she puts more pressure on herself than we ever did. She's very self-motivated," Darlene said.
Darlene said she noticed her daughter's interest in dance practically ever since she could walk.
"She danced all over the house. Her little feet never stopped. She thought ballet would be fun," Darlene said. "She loved it since the moment she walked in (to dance class). She danced back out and that's the way she's been ever since."
Her mother recalls her daughter's first part in a dance recital. She played one of several bumblebees that buzzed among flowers, and when it came time to exit the stage she was the sole student to perform a leap.
"Leaping has always been her greatest joy," said her mother, who added that her daughter seems to have an "extra spark" when it comes to dancing.
"For her, it was more than just memorizing movement. She told me she actually gets into the music."
The teen, who is an active member of Eastridge Community Church, plans to travel to Honduras this summer for mission work, in between her time with the Charleston Ballet Theater.
Some day she would enjoy being a full-time missionary, but until then dance is her first love.
Up until her departure for Charleston this past week, DeFoor took classes four days a week at Conyers School of Ballet, and on Saturdays practiced with the school's Conyers Dance Ensemble for several hours.
"I can't walk down the street without wanting to dance. It's more natural than walking to me," she said.