Morgan Clune of Barrington cannot imagine her life without dance, and now, with an acceptance into the elite dance program at The Juilliard School in New York, her vision appears to be a reality.
Clune, 18, graduated last month from the Chicago Academy for the Arts, where she was only the second girl in the school's 37-year history to be accepted into Juilliard's prestigious dance school.
Each year, Juilliard accepts only 12 boys and 12 girls into its world-renowned program. After four years, Clune will earn a master's degree in fine arts.
"It literally is a dream come true," Clune says. "I think this will definitely help me get into the professional world of dance."
Her dance career started traditionally. She began at Denise Sabala Studio in Lake Zurich from the time she was 4 until she was 9 years old, where she gained a well-rounded training, she says. After five years, Clune says, she ramped up her training.
Starting in about fifth grade, Clune auditioned for the Perseverance Dance Company in Carol Stream. There, she worked with choreographer Missy Ridgeway in competitive dance, training in everything from contemporary, hip-hop and tap, to jazz.
Her passion for dance drew her and her mother, Kellie, to drive 40 minutes each day after school to her dance classes, but their dedication paid off.
When Clune was in eighth grade, she advanced through several rounds of the National Dance Competition, all the way to the finals that year in Las Vegas, where she ultimately was named the national elite dancer in the junior division.
It was then that Clune began to dream of something bigger than winning titles. She dreamed of joining a professional dance company.
"To be honest, I started a little late," Clune says, "but I don't regret anything. (My competitive dance training) taught me how to audition, as well as the value of performance and stage presence. And it instilled in me a solid work ethic and leadership skills in the studio."
Clune attended Barrington High School her freshman year, where she took a dance class and performed with the Orchesis Club, but she wanted more. She says she wanted to be surrounded by artists who felt as passionately about their craft as she did.
She found that, she says, at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, where she transferred beginning in her sophomore year. Despite a 50-mile commute each day by train, Clune says she thrived.
It was at the Chicago Academy that Clune shifted more into ballet and pointe, which she trained in every day, developing a passion for the classical dance form.
"Morgan is a special young artist because of her ability to tackle challenges head-on, with no fear of failure," says Randy Duncan, dance chair at the academy. "She devotes leisure time to hone her anointed skills by being consistently regimented.
"She compares herself to no one, but competes with her own inner thoughts and observations," Duncan adds. "She is truly a gift to the dance world."
Her audition to get into Juilliard was rigorous. She was one of more than 50 girls who started the process at the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago studios earlier this year. Clune advanced through five rounds to be one of the last three standing.
When she received the call in March that she had been accepted into Juilliard, Clune described it as "one of the greatest feelings imaginable."
But her dance training didn't end there. This summer, Clune will be immersed in two ballet intensives. The first starts this week with the Joffrey Ballet, where for four weeks she will be immersed in ballet and pointe classes.
After that, she heads to The Hague in the Netherlands, home to the Nederlands Dans Theater -- described as one of the most progressive dance companies in the world -- for more intensive training.
"That's my dream company," Clune says. "That's where I'd love to dance someday."
She expects that when she gets to Juilliard this fall, it will be more of the same, with daily classes in ballet and pointe, as well as modern technique and choreography.
"It's dancing all day, every day," Clune says. "I love it. I can't get enough of it."