Her body language speaks volumes – Maya Zalo is one painfully shy 12-year-old girl.
The soft-spoken Langley dancer shrugged her shoulders and smiled as she fielded each question lobbed at her.
She’s still getting used to the attention after making the Team Canada tap team that is heading to Germany in December to represent the red and white at the world championships.
Once she’s on stage, however, Maya is in her element; that’s when she bursts out of her shell.
“She gets on stage and ‘boom’ who is that kid?” Maya’s mom Nicole said.
Maya attended open auditions in April, and found out on May 21 that she had made the team that will compete from Dec. 1 to 5 in Dresden, Germany.
“She literally couldn’t contain herself she was so excited,” Nicole said.
The feat is the end result of a combination of talent and dogged determination.
“I’m really excited about representing my country,” Maya said, about making the team. “I heard that some of my dance teachers had gone but I never thought that I would be able to go. When I found out it was like ‘Whoa! This is really crazy!’”
Three of her tap teachers have had the opportunity to attend worlds, and the current director of Cloverdale’s Dance Xpressions studio, Keeley MacDonald, also made the world team but due to school conflicts wasn’t able to go.
Maya had continuously signed up for group tap classes but because she was so young, she didn’t have kids her age to dance with.
So for three years MacDonald wound up doing solo classes with her, simply because there were no other students, and they became a duet, since at the time Maya was too timid to go on stage alone.
“She’s like my mom,” Maya said, about MacDonald.
Maya – who has also honed her skills under the guidance of tap teachers Tara MacDonald and Alyssa Parry – had a natural skill for tap and, combined with the one-on-one classes, it catapulted her in this specific style of dance.
“She does all styles of dance and loves them all, but tap seems to have brought her the most opportunities,” Nicole said.
“She is an extremely committed dancer and already knows she wants to hopefully own a studio one day, ideally Dance Xpressions,” mom said half-jokingly.
Maya helps teach classes at the studio as well as teaching her own class for the first time this year.
While she loves tap, Maya admits that “it’s hard.”
“I like the challenge of tap,” she said.
Nicole added, “She’s built for it. She’s got the right movement and body. She doesn’t really have a ballerina body. She’s a hip-hopper.”
Also going to the worlds from Dance Xpressions is 18-year-old Shayleen Dignall, who is like a big sister to Maya.
Shayleen – who is currently in Los Angeles with 10 other dancers from the studio, including Maya’s 14-year-old brother Dylan, taking classes at The Edge, arguably the premier dance studio in North America.
She is going to Germany as part of the older team.
Shayleen also danced at Dance Xpressions and graduated this year, but is continuing on as a teacher at the studio.
She attended the adult auditions in April as well, and she and Maya messaged each other continuously, wondering if either had heard anything as they waited to find out if they made the Team Canada cut.
There are two teams representing Canada at the world championships: a junior team (12 to 15 age group) and an adult team (16-plus).
They will rehearse essentially every second weekend, two hours on both Saturdays and Sundays until October.
From then, the rehearsals are amped to every weekend until the Canadian contingent leaves Nov. 29.
Maya admits winning the competition against the world’s best might be a very ambitious goal, adding “that’s crazy.”
“Canada won the most sportsmanship [award] at the last one,” Nicole said.
The competition is presented by the International Dance Organization which has a membership of over 90 nations representing more than 250,000 dancers from six continents. It is up to each individual dancer to pay for their trip.
A gofundme page has been set up on Maya’s behalf at www.gofundme.com/yegh6s.