Illiana Cantu, 13, seventh grader at Francisco Barrientes Middle School, gets 16 to 20 hours of ballet, jazz and folklorico dance practice a week at Dancentre of Edinburg; equivalent to the hours a part-time employee works.

On February 14, Illiana, who has been dancing since age nine, along with two other students of Dancentre of Edinburg, Rachel Clear, 12, and Aleida Aguirre, 14, put their long hours of practice to the test, competing with 33 other girls at San Antonio for seats at Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive Program; a workshop for dancers in different age groups from all across the country who will have an opportunity to enhance their skills by working with the best instructors in the ballet discipline.

All three girls were accepted to the program taking place on June 21 to July 9. The cost for each dancer is $1,285.00, which Illiana’s family is currently struggling to put together.

On October 2009, Illiana’s father Nicolas Cantu, a baseball coach at Edinburg North High School, suffered an ischemic attack, paralyzing his left side for about four weeks. After rigorous physical therapy he is now able to walk, drive and coach again, but the medical bills are piling up.

“This opportunity may never come again so we want for her to experience what this summer workshop has to offer,” said Cantu.

According to Kym Lanier, instructor at Dancentre of Edinburg, it is not an easy program to get into.

“It’s a big honor,” Lanier, “it says a lot of the school and of them.”

Thousands of people audition in major cities for Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive Program, but very few are accepted, said Yvonne Guajardo, instructor at Dancentre of Edinburg.

“These workshops are to supplement the year long training they (dance students) are getting,” said Guajardo. “It let’s them see how they compare to other students their age in the country.”

This program not only increases the dancers’ skills, but also their opportunities to get college scholarships or jobs, added Guajardo.

“We would want for her to experience firsthand what other companies are doing and also meet new friends and make different contacts that might help her later in life,” said Cantu about Illiana attending Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive Program. “Her goal is to continue dancing and pursue a degree in the medical field.”

According to Cantu, being a dancer has largely influenced Illiana’s ability to prioritize, be punctual and has put her on the honor roll various times. At Francisco Barrientes Middle School, Illiana is also involved in volley ball, track and cross country; and at Dancentre of Edinburg she assists with the younger students, which in turn has taught her leadership skills.

Illiana was awarded a scholarship that will cover twenty-five percent of the cost for the three week session, including room and board, but needs help covering the rest. The Cantu family has begun cutting corners in an attempt to save up before payment is due on May 5, but would appreciate the community’s assistance.

“We’re sacrificing a lot— eating in a lot more,” said Illiana, “but dance is a sacrifice.”

Illiana would like to see how far she can go in dance and her parents do not want to deprive her from this opportunity she worked hard to attain and that is only offered to very few.

Contributions of any size can be made by contacting Nicolas Cantu at 956-929-4789 or Dancentre of Edinburg PO Box 637 Edinburg, TX 78540 Attn: Illiana Cantu.