Tatiana Melendez is an award-winning dancer who also finds time to model, posing for Disney Cruise Line publications, advertisements for an upscale Orlando hotel and even a catalog for a London clothing designer.
Oh, and this 12-year-old dynamo about to enter eighth grade earns straight A's.
Last month the All American Dance Factory student returned from the New York City Dance Alliance competition with her latest trophy. At the conclusion of the grueling 10-day national competition among 95 regional winners, she was named first runner-up for her solo performance in the girls' junior category (ages 11-13).
This year alone, the Carrollwood resident has given winning performances at major competitions, near and far, including Onstage New York in Orlando, where she won two first-place trophies. Other major competitions have taken her to Atlanta, Nashville, Mobile, Ala., and Greenville, S.C.
"It really takes a village to raise a dancer," said her mother, Maria Alvarado, citing the demands on the family's time, travel and money. "The financial aspect is very, very challenging," requiring cost-cutting wherever possible — carpooling to competitions, scouting economical accommodations, sharing rooms with other dancers.
Dancers like Tatiana recruit sponsors and, of course, family members often help with expenses. "And still it's very, very hard for us. We have to watch every penny," especially when trying to find affordable accommodations in midtown Manhattan, said Alvarado, who has two sons and works fulltime.
"In the end, she came out victorious, so that's the reward for us," she said of her daughter's latest achievement. "Thank God, I have my sister," Ariana Alvarado, who ensures her niece meets the demanding schedule.
"It's been a great year for us, and it's been a great year for her, at only 12 years old," Ariana said of the girl family members call "Tati."
Tati began instruction at age 5, inspired by TV dance performances. "I told my mom I wanted to do that. I started with jazz; I did some ballet," and attended twice-weekly classes, she said.
Soon she was competing, earning a first-place trophy at age 8.
In her scarce spare time, she enjoys drawing and modeling. "I love to play outside; I'm an outdoor person," said the former student at Farnell Middle School in Town 'N Country, who now studies through Florida Virtual School. The online school's schedule is more compatible with the demands of dancing.
Competing as a junior at major competitions is attracting attention. Her talents have drawn scholarship offers from the Orlando Ballet and Festival Ballet in Providence, R.I.
"I definitely want to continue ballet," she said, her goal being to dance with New York City Ballet or another major company.