COSTA MESA — Alexandria Kessinger wasn't a natural-born dancer, despite having an instructor for a mother.
But at age 4 she decided she would dance.
And that was that.
"There's no holding her back," said Paula Kessinger, Alexandria's mother and owner of the Costa Mesa-based West Coast School of the Arts.
Alexandria, 17, won three national dance competitions this year, and was named Dancer of the Year by one of the competitions. She is flying to Australia next month to represent the U.S. in the nine-day Showcase Dance Championship.
"I was very shocked," the Riverside resident said on winning. "I knew I worked really, really hard. I guess I underestimated myself, how hard I've worked toward it. I was kind of just like, 'Me?'"
Alexandria got into dance through her mother, with whom she would go to work. Kessinger, though, wasn't sure she wanted her daughter to get involved because of the harsh criticism that comes with competition, especially for the daughter of a studio owner.
"I would just always watch people dance, and I always wanted to be in there," Alexandria said, "so finally [my mom] let me go into my first class. I absolutely loved it. I was the worst one in the class."
Her daughter wasn't very flexible and musicality didn't come naturally to her, but she possessed a natural stage presence, Kessinger said.
Alexandria worked hard to make up for what she wasn't born with and — after begging her mom — earned her first solo when she was 8. She walked away with first place, and from then on she started competing more seriously.
"I love dancing because you are able to express yourself in different ways," she said. "It's kind of how an artist would use a paintbrush to express themselves, but you get to use your body. Your body is the paintbrush. You're painting a picture for your audience to see."
Alexandria, who spends about 25 hours a week dancing, takes more ballet classes than the average dancer to work on her technique. She also has taken private classes just to work on her feet, and does yoga and Pilates.
"She does a lot of things to overcome not being built like a dancer," Kessinger said.
The high school senior is also focused on school, where she is taking four Advanced Placement classes and is in the top 2% of her class.
To get all her schoolwork done around her dancing schedule, she gets about five hours of sleep and does her homework on rides to and from the studio.
"I just love dancing — it's just what I do — and also I love school," she said. "My drive is just to be successful, and this is what I enjoy doing."
Her goal for some time has been to be named Dancer of the Year and compete in the Australia competition for a world title.
She will perform three solos — a jazz routine, "My Discarded Men"; a modern number, "I Will Always Remember"' and a lyrical performance, "Dancing" — against about 2,000 other dancers.
"To me, it would mean the world to just have that title," she said. "To come home — I mean, it's not the Olympics — but it would kind of have that gold medal feel. I feel like it would be the most amazing experience to win it."