Alexa De Barr has taken her passion and turned it into a career.
Currently, the 21-year-old 2010 Cape Henlopen High School graduate is touring Italy with a dance troupe performing "Westside Story."
It's a dream come true for the girl who always wanted to be a professional dancer.
"I did grow up listening to the soundtrack after I watched the movie for the first time," De Barr said in an email while on break from rehearsal in Naples, Italy. "I also saw the revival cast on Broadway in 2010, and ever since I've been dying to be in the show."
De Barr rehearsed with the troupe for weeks before the show opened June 22 in the San Carlo Theatre. She is playing the role of "Minnie," a Jet girl in the 1960s musical – at the time billed as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet – that pitted an American gang, the Jets, against a Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. As Minnie, De Barr performs in the "Dance at the Gym," "Cool" and the "Dream Ballet." She is also an understudy for "Rosalia," a Shark girl who is featured in the song "America."
"I've never seen a theater so detailed and extravagant," she said of the 17th century San Carlo Theatre.
Leading up to opening day, practices were grueling, and the cast was allowed only one day off a week, De Barr said.
She and her castmates have made the most of those days off by sightseeing and exploring the area. At other times, De Barr said she likes finding a quiet café where she can tuck away with a cup of coffee and her journal.
"Writing is very therapeutic for me," she said.
It's during these times of reflection that she thinks about the beach.
"I would say the biggest thing I miss about Delaware is the beaches," she said. "I'm a big time beach girl, and it's hard being away from that."
De Barr was born in North Carolina but moved to Lewes with her family when she was 3, said her mother, Susie Brinck.
Attending Shields Elementary and Beacon Middle School before entering Cape Henlopen High School, she was dancing by age 6 at Coastal Dance Academy with dance teacher Terri Morris, where she fell in love with dance. She credits Coastal Dance Academy with helping her "come out of my shell and be a true performer."
Brinck said she's supported De Barr in many activities, some that came and went. But dance was different.
"She played softball and did gymnastics, but she didn't stay with them. When she said she wanted to dance, I thought she'd give it up," Brinck said. "I was such a tomboy when I was her age, but she kept with the dancing."
When she turned 12, De Barr switched to the Central Delaware Dance Academy in Camden where she studied with Dan Kaiser, Victoria Voshell, Autumn Schneider and Kelly Miller.
Four to six times a week, Brinck said, mother and daughter would make the 50-minute drive to Camden.
"I would pick her up from school, she would eat dinner in the car and do her homework on the way home," Brinck said. "It was a long night. Long seven years. But it was definitely worth it."
Two weeks after De Barr graduated from Cape Henlopen High School, she was in the Big Apple for a two-year program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
Finishing with the dance program, De Barr received two job offers; she picked an 11-month job at sea dancing for the Disney Fantasy Ship. Next, she danced in a "Jersey Nights" production at Niagara Falls and then went to South Carolina for "Anything Goes."
Her latest work in "Westside Story" puts her exactly where she wants to be.
"Touring was my next 'to do' on my list of performing, so it couldn't have happened at a better time," she said.
Once her European tour ends, De Barr said, she wants to get an agent with connections in New York and Los Angeles so she can pursue work in both film and theater. Ultimately, she said she hopes to end up on Broadway.
Her work this summer puts her closer to that dream, she said.
"Hopefully with this credit on my resume it will give me a boost," she said.
In the meantime, she is enjoying the experience.
"I'm so excited to make more memories with this terrific cast," she said, describing how all had tears in their eyes after the first rehearsal with the 40-piece orchestra. "The music from this show is so incredible, and I still can't believe I'm a part of it."
Wherever she ends up in life, De Barr said she will always have a connection to the Cape Region.
"Now whenever I go back I realize how great of an area it is, and to spend time with my family is all I could ask for," she said.