Madelynn Kaiser, 16, stood on a stage in California at the end of January full of joy for the winner of a prestigious ballet competition before realizing that the winning number being called was hers.

Kaiser has been dancing since just after she learned to walk. Her parents enrolled her in a Tippy Toes dance class when she was just 2 years old and by the time she turned 3 she was taking dance classes at the Northern Arizona University Community Music and Dance Academy.

On the weekend of January 22-22, Kaiser traveled with 12 other girls from the NAU dance academy to compete in the Royal Academy of Dance Challenge at Long Beach.

Dancers from 70 different countries had come to compete and there were 32 different dancers in the Level 4 section that Kaiser was competing in.

The weekend featured master classes in technique, with a focus on artistry, and rehearsals both in the studio and on the stage where the performances would take place on Saturday and then the competition on Sunday.

“On Sunday night I was super, super nervous. I was back stage with all of my friends and we were all encouraging each other. We are all so close.” Kaiser said of the competition.

“A couple of people went before me and then it was my turn. The music started and I just ran out on stage and had a good time.”

“I felt really good about my performance. After my individual piece I had an ensemble piece with three other dancers.”

“Then it came time for the awards. They called everyone in a line. When second place was called it was a girl I knew from another dance studio. They call the winners by their number and each girl has a number. I was number 31 but wasn’t thinking about my number just my level which is level 4. When the judge called number 31 I was super excited for that girl and then he said my name and I was completely shocked.

I was so excited I just wasn’t expecting it.” Kaiser said.

The first place was the first time a dancer from the NAU Community Music and Dance Academy had ever placed at the event.

“She works very hard as a dancer and is now really focusing on the technical aspects of her dancing,” said Andrew Needhammer, the dance and ballet coordinator at the NAU Academy. “Maddie has always been a great performer but now she is really stepping up the technicality and strength required to be a professional dancer.” Needhammer said.

“She has always been a joy to teach because she works so hard and she has that thing that you can’t teach a dancer, which is the performance aspect and the projection.” Needhammer said.

When asked what was next for his student, Needhammer said, “I’m hoping that she will go to the Genee International Ballet Competition. It is held in different countries around the world each year and in the past I have taken dancers to New Zealand, London and Glasgow. Usually just one or two dancers qualify each year by taking the Advanced 2 Royal Academy of Dance Exam and passing with a certain score.”

As for Kaiser, she is excited for the future and to continue dancing with her friends.

“Part of it was for myself and I was so proud, but then bringing that award back to the studio was great as I was able to share it with everyone.” Kaiser said.

“I was hoping that bringing that home would encourage more of our girls to go out and dance in competitions.”