- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gabby Nelson’s turning point came when she hung up her ballet slippers after 13 years of intensive training.

“I started dancing in kindergarten,” says Nelson, 18, of Mendota Heights. “When I was 10 years old, I started to take it more seriously and began training at the Classical Ballet Academy in St. Paul.”

As a girl, she danced for Ballet Minnesota, landing such lead roles as Clara in “The Nutcracker.” At 13, she flew to New York by herself where she auditioned for the School of American Ballet summer intensive, the official training ground of the New York City Ballet. She was accepted into the school’s summer intensive program, where she held one of the 200 spots of the 2,000 that auditioned.

Back in Minnesota, Nelson attended the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists during her first two years of high school and also trained and danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre in Minneapolis.

For her junior year, the teen relocated to Florida - on her own - to participate in the pre-professional program of the Miami City Ballet School.

“Her teacher, a very tough Russian woman, said Gabby had everything it takes to be a prima ballerina,” says Gabby’s mother, Alexandra “Alex” Nelson.

But as college - and adulthood - loomed, Gabby Nelson began questioning her goals, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1l1z0Xz ) reported.

“Although being a professional ballerina was initially my goal, the chances of making it in the dance world are very slim - there are a lot of dancers competing for very few jobs - and the chance of injury is very high,” she says. “I have devoted so much time to dance, and sacrificed so many things, and while I still love ballet, there’s part of me that wants to explore other things out there, too.”

She moved back to Minnesota in June 2013 and has spent the year finishing her high school requirements through MTS Minnesota Connections Academy, an online public school. She also spent two months in the Dominican Republic, and while there she volunteered at a children’s day camp, el Patio con Alfredo.

Before leaving for DePaul University in Chicago this fall, she has been branching out in other ways, too.

On June 1, during a ceremony at Union Depot in St. Paul, Nelson was crowned the 2014 Miss Teen Latina Minnesota over four other contestants.

In a way, this was quite a shock to her mom.

“She had always said she was not interested in pageants and would never enter a pageant,” says Alex Nelson, who won a tiara of her own when she was crowned in a pageant in her native Dominican Republic in 1988.

The teen shrugs.

“It was a way to get involved in my community, explore my heritage and have a platform to share what I’m passionate about with others,” Gabby Nelson says.

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