When Dino Elias, 20, stepped on the stage at the Kennedy Center, he hardly noticed the 2,000-person audience or the interior of the quintessential American performing arts theater. Nothing existed outside of his tap dance routine.
"When I perform, I just perform. I just go with it. When I got on the stage, I got in the zone and went for it. So I don't remember much of it," Elias said.
The Whittell High School graduate was chosen to perform a piece choreographed by tap-dancing star Derick Grant for "Juba! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance," the first show of its kind at the Kennedy Center.
It all started last spring when Elias auditioned for the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. "The Pillow" is home to the country's longest-running dance festival and hosts more than 50 dance companies from around the world.
It's a prestigious venue to show off your talent, and when Director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project Lane Alexander saw Elias and his fellow tappers perform Grant's choreography, he knew he wanted the company to dance in his celebration of tap set to take place in December at the Kennedy Center.
It was a dream come true for Elias, who started tap dancing in South Lake Tahoe nine years before. His mother and co-owner of Forever Dance Lake Tahoe, Joan Elias, taught him contemporary, modern and jazz, but it was Sharie Jones who introduced Elias to tap.
"Tap just clicks. It makes sense. It's the way the rhythms flow - it's just fun to create your own beats with your feet," he said.
Elias started competing when he was 10 years old and would finish in the top five in each event he entered, according to his mother. But it wasn't until his junior year in high school that he began to consider dance as a future career.
Now he's one of Forever Dance's main instructors, teaching tap and teen hip hop. He also performs in the Reno show "Red Hot Superstars," and said that he'd eventually like to dance on Broadway - "Who doesn't want that?" he asked rhetorically.
For Joan Elias, she's just glad that her son's found his passion and that it aligns so closely with her work.
"It's a family business. It makes it more fun when your kids are there and you get to spend time with them. I'm really proud of him. He's a great dancer and a great role model for the other kids in the studio," she said.
When Elias stepped off the Kennedy Center stage, the show's organizer Alexander congratulated him, saying that his solo tap dance performance was the highlight of the concert.
"The experience was amazing. It was the best show I've performed in so far. Even the famous tappers knew how big of a deal it was to be a part of the first all-tap performance," Elias said.