AFTER begging her mother for two years for ballet lessons, five-year-old Lucy Ryder realised her young ambition when she performed in her first Christmas dance concert for teacher Nicole Shipman.
But it was the "big girls" she was in awe of that day, mesmerised as they moved gracefully across the stage.
With yellow dress and ringlet hair intact, a pint-sized Lucy knew then this was her calling. Now, 13 years of practice and performance later, she is the subject of awe for a whole new generation of young dancers.
The accomplished 18-year-old ballerina performed her final dance with the Clarence River Dance Academy this week, and while Lucy admits she is sad to leave, she says a long line of tiny ballerinas waiting for her made it a memorable night.
"There was a line of little girls waiting to have a photo taken with me," Lucy laughed.
"One of them looked up and said 'She's real! I want to be just like that'."
Lucy's mother Jenny says that since those early concerts, she has always shined on stage.
"I feel like you see the real her when she gets on stage," Jenny said.
"When she walks on stage, she has a real presence and aura - and she's been like that since she first began."
Lucy has this year fitted her dance in between her HSC at McAuley Catholic College and working a part-time job. Despite the time pressures, her dance continues to excel.
Late last year, she placed second in ballet at the Brisbane Eisteddfod, competing against dancers who study full-time and this year received a mark of 94% for her Advance 1 exam.
"That is a real credit not only to her, but to the teachers we have here," Jenny said.
She also has been placed on the shortlist for the Callback show in Sydney, the showcase of exemplary performances by HSC students of dance - meaning she is in the top 10%.
"I was glad I finished up properly and got my HSC, but now I'm ready to move on now that I'm a bit older," Lucy said.
Lucy's next move is to the National College of Dance where she will begin the one-year Diploma of Dance.
The opportunity to study there is offered only to six male and six female dancers each year and it came from a performance at the Coffs Harbour Eisteddfod.
"Brett Morgan, who is a director of the College of Dance, was in the audience ... and offered me a $500 scholarship to a summer school," Lucy said.
A few weeks later, he held a workshop at Coffs Harbour and again saw Lucy dance.
"I had a private lesson with him that day, and from that he offered me the full-time spot for next year."
Lucy hopes to take her ballet to the world, aiming at a spot with a dance company overseas.
She says dancing is a passion.
"I think I've always danced better when I'm performing, when there's someone watching," Lucy said.
"But I just love dance; I just have to do it."