By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Five local girls from a small ballet school in the South Hills were recently accepted into the most prestigious summer dance program in the country in New York City, but for one of the dancers, the challenge has been much more than learning ballet.

Averi Hodgsen, 14, has epilepsy and scoliosis.

She has overcome those challenges and was one of only 200 dancers around the country accepted by audition into the summer program at the School of American Ballet — the official school of the American Ballet Theatre, which is considered the most preeminent company in the country.


“I used to have pity parties thinking I was the only one with this problem,” she said of her earlier days dealing with her health challenges.

She has since decided to face those challenges head on and not let them get in the way of her desire to become a professional dancer.

Stephen Piper, who owns Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh in Castle Shannon with his wife and teacher, Lindsey, says they’re proud of what Averi has overcome.

“If you watch her on stage or in class, you would never know she’s dealing with these health issues,” Piper says.

He goes on to say, “She’s a beautiful dancer and works her hardest all the time.”

In fact, dance class is the only time Averi is not wearing her back brace that goes from her tailbone to her neck. She wears it all day at Ringgold Middle School and everywhere else because it helps her spine grow straight in the two places where it’s curved from the scoliosis.

As for the epilepsy, Averi used to be afraid to dance because she worried she would have a seizure — something that started when she was just 6-years-old. Now, it’s been two years since she’s had a seizure, thanks to new medication.

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Averi’s mother, Cortney, used to be a special education teacher, and she shares the same message with her daughter that she did with her students: “The one thing I would always tell them is your diagnosis does not define who you are and what you’re capable of, and it’s no different for Averi. If you want to be a dancer, be a dancer,” she told her.

Averi’s first audition ever was for the School of American Ballet. Getting accepted made her realize it’s not just her mom and teacher who think she’s a good dancer. She hopes she can inspire other young people to follow their dreams, no matter what the obstacles.

“A lot of people diagnosed with different things think they can’t do anything, but they can,” Averi says. “You can accomplish all of your dreams if you just try.”

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