Eight-year-old Sienna Galesi of Sag Harbor won third place in her Petite Mini Soloist division at Groove, a national dance competition that took place in Atlantic City last week.
Her mother, Christina Galesi, said that Sienna had tried ballet classes two years ago, but "had a separation from mama thing" and would run out of the class. "I really missed my mom," Sienna agreed.
Sienna said that all changed, however, when she watched "The Cheetah Girls" — "The one where they go to India," she specified. She was inspired by the dancing in the movie and would perform around the house constantly.
This year, Stephan and Christina Galesi enrolled her in lyrical dance, ballet, and hip-hop at the Studio 3 school in Bridgehampton, where her sister, India, already took lessons. There, Sienna tried out for the competition team with a routine she had choreographed to a Beyonce and Shakira song. Ms. Galesi said the instructors had reacted with amazement as Sienna had so little experience with dance.
Sienna attends the Ross School, and three times a week after the school day, she would have dance class for an hour. This summer, she began to take class four times a week for an hour and a half, in addition to two, one-hour private lessons each week.
Sienna qualified for the national competition because she finished in the top 10 at two other competitions. "It was fun and really scary, and I felt like I was gonna faint, but it was really fun," said Sienna about her experience at nationals.
"It's a whole culture unbeknownst to me. All dressed up and glitzed out and false eyelashes and tons of makeup," remarked Ms. Galesi about the dance competition world with which her family was not familiar. "You see these TV shows like 'Dance Moms,' but it wasn't that way at all. The competitors were really sweet and supportive," she said.
Ms. Galesi described her daughter's effort during the four hours of judged dance classes that preceded the competition: "She was so focused and little compared to everybody else. It brings tears to my eyes, honestly, to have someone enjoy something so much. It was all over her face, her joy and commitment to it all."
On the day of the competition, Ms. Galesi estimated that Sienna competed against 15 other 8 to 12-year-olds in her category. Her dance was to the song "Tell Me Something" by Selena Gomez and was choreographed by Meredith Schumway, who is the head of the competition team at Studio 3. Ms. Schumway's mother, Diane Schumway, runs the school. Both women are a big part of Sienna's love for dance and her success at it, said Ms. Galesi.
Sienna explained that her favorite type of dance is lyrical. "It's really fun because you can just extend you hands and move your feet really slowly."