Stepping up to the competition

Ask any of the 5,000 dancers who vie for scholarships in the Youth America Grand Prix's ballet competition if the constant practice and grueling discipline are worth it. They'll tell you: To dance is to be transported.

"Well, when I dance, I always, like, forget everything that I had, something bad that day, and I feel very good after I dance," said Marin Soki. "I feel so excited somehow."

Marin Soki was one of the 953 ballet students who made it through to the New York City finals, which Sunday Morning correspondent Mo Rocca attended in April.

But for Marin, just being able to get to New York City was anything but certain.

Marin lives in Sendai, Japan. Only three days after the quake, with Sendai's airport closed, 11-year-old Marin, her mother and father in tow, made the 190-mile trek to Tokyo, normally an hour 45 minutes by train.

Traveling by bus, taxi, then two trains took them eight hours.

"It was a miracle," said Kenichi Soki.

"The gods saved us!" Marin laughed.

Ballet is something of a family business for the Sokis. Marin's parents, both dancers themselves, began teaching her when she was just two.

But Marin didn't have to be forced into those ballet slippers.

When asked why it was so important for Marin to travel to New York, she replied, "I really wanted to come to New York to get the scholarship from many other famous schools."

The international competition draws dancers from around the globe hoping, like Marin, for the chance to study with the world's elite companies, and to perform in New York City.

At the California semi-finals, Rocca met 12-year-old David Preciado. Last year, David turned down the coveted role of Billy Elliot on Broadway so he could continue studying in Los Angeles.

Rocca told Preciado that his dancing looked effortless.

"That's what it takes - like, years to get it to that point," he said.

Also at the California semi-finals were sisters Courtney and Stephanie Schenberger. They both want to make dancing their careers.

"Maybe you can be in the same company?" Rocca suggested.

"Dancing sisters!" Stephanie laughed. "She'll love that!"

"Maybe different companies," Courtney laughed.

The sisters hail from Hawaii, where they train seven days a week.

Courtney won a spot in the finals. Alas, Stephanie did not.

When asked for advice for her sister going into the finals, Stephanie said, "Don't get nervous, Courtney, 'cause I know how much you get nervous sometimes. Smile it out. Smile it out."

Happy feet ... happy faces.

"When I saw you dancing earlier," Rocca said to Marin, "just rehearsing, and you were doing I think pique turns, you had this great smile on your face."

"Yeah, it's so fun!" she said.

Fun, but also high pressure - with only about 150 of the nearly one thousand finalists walking away with a scholarship.

Yet, even so, Marin's thoughts are never far from home ...

"My luggage is very big because I need a lot of stuff to get to New York. So, I'm going to send my clothes and things like that to Japan, and then in that empty luggage I'm going to put a lot of food in it so that I can take that food back to Sendai and give it out to neighbors," she said, adding with a chuckle, "And we also eat them, too."

Marin Soki went home to Japan after the finals, with food for her neighbors - and a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London.

"Does she inspire you?" Rocca asked her father.

"Oh, yeah, yes, a lot," he smiled.

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