NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A 17-year-old Lusher student spends her days applying to colleges and volunteering at a NORD gym. But her real passion? Following in the footsteps of a young African American woman, a performer with international name recognition.
She glides across the floor with ease, feeling the music with every delicate step.
As the audience watches, Celeste Jupiter loses herself in the moment.
"I feel stress-free and all my worries and anxieties go away," Celeste explained.
This is where she feels most comfortable.
"As soon as I step out onto the stage, and I'm in the audience's view, I don't feel anything but a rush of joy and happiness," Celeste said.
The 17-year-old is incredibly accomplished. The native New Orleanian recently won the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Louisiana 2018 and was selected to participate in dance theater of Harlem's summer program.
She has been invited to perform in New York and with guest ballet companies like Ballet Hispanico. But here, inside a city-owned NORD building, is where her skills really took off.
Mom Tonya Jupiter comments, "She started dancing right in the Algiers center with Miss Eleni over there."
At just two years old, Celeste's parents enrolled her in dance classes as a way to keep the toddler busy. Soon, the family learned of the free classes offered through NORD, the city's recreation department.
"I had this open door to so many different dance professionals from around the world," Celeste commented.
That's because NORD partners with NOBA, the New Orleans Ballet Association, to provide classes, free of charge, to people of all ages.
Tonya says, "It just opens the world of dance to everyone regardless of their economic circumstance."
"Paying no tuition and no more for costuming or performing or anything, I pay nothing at all to be at NOBA and that's incredible," Celeste added.
Despite excelling at every level and being accepted into NOBA's pre-professional program, with an intensive, year-round curriculum, Celeste learned, the dance world can be fickle. She admits, over the years, there weren't many African American women in ballet she could look up to. Despite this, she pushed on with her passion.
"It's just really something that's grown to be a part of who I am," Celeste said.
Eventually, Misty Copeland burst onto the scene. In 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be named lead dancer in the American Ballet Theater. Using Copeland as her inspiration, Celeste realized, that level of success would take real dedication.
"The commitment of every weekday from Monday through Saturday really is spent or a good part of it, here," Tonya commented.
Celeste adds, "It's been difficult at times to juggle dance and school because at Lusher the academic coursework is rigorous but at the end of the day, it ends up being worth it."
As the accolades stack up and high profile performances fill her schedule, Celeste insists on making time for the kids at NORD.
Her goal is to show them that hard work pays off. It's something her mom witnessed, first hand.
"I would certainly think for young ladies in our community seeing what can happen here at NORD in this room full of multi-cultural folks working together at their craft, is just a plus," Tonya said.
Celeste knows she plays an important role, saying, "That really makes me feel appreciated and inspires me to continue to do what I do because I know how much of a role model I am for them."
As she applies for college, Celeste says she's planning for a life on the stage.
She explains, "The way that I can connect with people without the common method of communication with talking, is such a magical thing."
Because her gift is one that not only brings joy but inspiration. Proving that with a dream, and hard work, anything is possible.
Celeste's ultimate dream is to one day share the stage with Misty Copeland and hopefully pave the way for other young African American girls interested in ballet.