When Kensey Conti showed her grandmother a video she choreographed after being inspired by the woman's struggle with stage-four lung cancer, she knew she had something powerful.
"She's seen it like a ton of times now, and she cries every time," Kensey said.
The Corona del Mar High School senior choreographed a dance depicting four doctors guiding four patients through a battle with cancer before they ascend a stairway.
After she and her Orchesis dance team performed the dance at a show last year, Kensey and her family grabbed a DVD of the routine and drove to Arizona to show grandma for the first time.
"She was completely touched, kind of shocked," Kensey said, adding that her grandma is still fighting hard against the disease.
It wasn't until this month that Kensey realized her emotional choreography is also an award-winning piece of art, she said.
When Newport-Mesa Unified School District's school board heaped praise on her after watching the dance, Kensey appreciated the significance of a contest she'd entered.
She is one of two CdM students competing in the statewide Reflections Program art contest put on by parent-teacher associations across the nation.
Students submit works to their local PTAs from six categories: dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts. This year, they all centered around the theme "The Magic of a Moment."
Local judges pick winners, sending them to the county level, where judges again pick the top works and submit them to the state level.
So far, Kensey and a fellow CdM student have made it all the way to state and expect to hear this month if they'll move on to nationals.
Cole Friedman, the other Newport-Mesa student competing still in the competition, shot a video documenting the rehabilitation of a broken surfboard called "The Spruce Mentality."
He tapped into the area's surf culture, and Kensey's submission does the same with her school's own culture.
"One thing about CdM is they have an amazing dance group called Orchesis," said Julie Lobel, CdM's Reflection's chairwoman.
She had wondered where the dance entries were in past years and when they'd break through to state, she said.
Kensey only decided to enter the Reflections contest months after she choreographed and performed with Orchesis, but since then, she's been on a roll, advancing to each new level of competition.
"Every time I feel like it's a bigger accomplishment," she said, but in the end, her motivation is still emotional.
"It was just therapeutic for me to get my emotions out through the choreography," she said.