Two Los Lunas teens to compete for DYW title

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Two talented and charming young women from Los Lunas are competing tonight for the 2013 Distinguished Young Woman of New Mexico title.

Natalie Baca, a senior at Los Lunas High School, and Kailee Bryant, a senior at the School of Dreams Academy, will perform at 7:30 p.m. in the old Hiland Theater at 4800 Central Ave. SE in Albuquerque. The building has been renovated, and is now the National Dance Institute of New Mexico.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: School of Dreams Academy senior Kailee Bryant is competing tonight for the 2013 Distinguished Young Woman of New Mexico title. She will perform a tap dance at the old Hiland Theater on Central Avenue in Albuquerque.

The event is open to the public. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for students. Senior citizens and children under 12 get in free. All proceeds help fund the Distinguished Young Women scholarship program, previously known as Junior Miss.

The opening song, “Girl On Fire,” by Alicia Keys, will be performed by the contestants in a choreographed dance, and introduce themselves one-by-one.

Baca won the Los Lunas Schools Distinguished Young Woman title, and Bryant is one of SODA’s first senior class students and the first student to enter the Distinguished Young Woman state competition as a contestant at large.

Both girls carry an grade point average of 3.5 or higher, and they are each passionate about the performing arts.

Baca plans to attend New Mexico State University and obtain a degree in advertising. She is also very interested in studying theater arts and video production.

Bryant wants to attend the University of New Mexico all the way to a master’s degree in business, as well as study dance.

Distinguished Young Women is a national scholarship program that supports leadership and talent in young women.

Participants are evaluated in categories, including academic, interview talent, fitness and self-expression.

All of the contestants had been sent DVDs of a fitness routine they had to learn on their own, and then perform as a group with all the other contestants. While they will get some practice together this morning, it is up to them to adapt their solo interpretation into a seamless group choreography.

Baca is no stranger to the Distinguished Young Woman pageant.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas Schools Distinguished Young Woman winner Natalie Baca, a senior at Los Lunas High School, will perform a dance and pantomime of the song ‘America,’ from the ‘West Side Story’ musical, at the old Hiland Theater in Albuquerque, in the statewide competition on Saturday.

“It’s really exciting for me, because it’s kind of a family tradition,” Baca said. “I have two aunts (Cindy McKay and Carla Chambers), a cousin (Cindy Bishop), my sister (Samantha Baca) who have participated in the program. My aunt (Chambers) has been really involved in running it.”

Carla Chambers is a co-chairwoman of the Los Lunas Distinguished Young Woman program with Yvonne Riley.

“It’s just such an honor to be able to represent Valencia County at the state level,” Baca said.

The tall, lean teen is really proud to have won the interview portion of the district competition, because it’s an area most girls really stress about, she said.

“We practiced a lot for it,” she said. “So, I felt really accomplished when I went in there, and even though I didn’t really think I did that great, I ended up winning that portion.”

She also won in self expression.

Recently, Baca won a $10,000 scholarship to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in the Barbizon Southwest Modeling and Talent Agency national competition.

“There were thousands of participants, and they only give out seven scholarships,” Baca said.

For today’s competition, she has worked with a dance coach, as well as Yvonne Riley on her interviewing skills to polish her presentation.

In the talent portion, she will perform a dance and pantomime to the song, “America,” from the “West Side Story” musical.

Bryant will perform an a cappella (no musical accompaniment) tap dance, creating her own original music with the rhythm of her tap shoes.

“It’s just me and my feet,” Bryant said. “The reason I love tap so much is partly because your feet make your music. The way I see it, my shoes are my instrument.”

This is the first time she has competed in any formal competition, but being the first is not new to her.

She has been a pioneer in many of SODA’s firsts. She was the first student council president, the first BEST robotics team leader and the first dance captain.

She is very proud to represent her school and pave the way for younger girls as the first to compete in Distinguished Young Woman, she said.

“It’s exhilarating, because being part of the first graduating class, and being a part of such a smaller school … you’re setting the standard, setting the bar, and it’s exciting, but it’s scarey,” Bryant said. “I love representing the school.”

Last year, Bryant won Miss Dance of 2012 at the school, and has received a lot of recognition for her dancing prowess. She has been studying ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom and hip hop.

Bryant has performed publicly with the SODA dance team at the state capitol during the legislative session, the Hard Rock Casino, Harla Mays in Belen, and community centers for seniors and children around the Valencia County.

“I’m very involved in community service,” Bryant said. “I really like doing things for kids. We went to Isleta Pueblo and performed for an elementary school. That was just so amazing, their faces just lit up. They asked, ‘Can I wear your tutu?’ It was just awesome. They were like, ‘You have to come back,’ and I said, ‘I promise I’ll come back.’”

Next week, Bryant is competing with her school in the Showstoppers regional competition held over two days at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque. Contestants are from Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

Bryant has also received several awards for being an outstanding student, and has assisted her dance teacher, Rosanne McNiel, in dance class, leading warm-up exercises, designing costumes and applying face makeup for performances.

“There’s multiple occasions where I lead the class,” Bryant said. “It’s very fun.”

Combining her love of dancing with community service is Bryant’s goal. She would like to open her own dance studio and teach low-income children or children with disabilities, and go out to perform for juveniles who have gotten in trouble, in hopes to help them find a better path.

The whole school has been very supportive of her in her preparation for the Distinguished Young Woman competition, she said.

Tonight, a panel of five judges will select one representative to advance to the annual national finals competition.

In June, the winner will move on to the national Distinguished Young Woman competition in Mobile, Ala.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.