Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Reiko Serrato is the first Bulldog to win first place for the National Honor Society for Dance Arts State of Florida Merit Scholarship.
She’s come a long way since age 6 when her family started taking Salsa dance classes together in Palm Coast.
“Usually, a typical dancer will start at the age of 3 in ballet training. Me, on the other hand, did not go through that process,” Serrato said. “It wasn’t until the age of maybe 10 or 11 that I joined an actual studio and began formal training.”
As a student in the international baccalaureate program, Serrato’s days are packed with a rigorous schedule, but she maintains a 3.9 GPA and continues dance training after school at FPC and at Flagler School of Dance.
She said her time-management skills have allowed her to make the best of both worlds.
To balance extracurriculars and classwork, Serrato said she sometimes has to stay up well past midnight to finish everything. But she doesn’t get worn out.
“It’s because I want to do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t stay up till 2 a.m. doing other things. It’s because I love dance so much and I want that to be a part of my life, that I stay up to finish my schoolwork so that I can both keep good grades and have my passion for dance.”
FPCHS dance teacher Janice Monsanto said she could see that Serrato was a talented, well-rounded student since her freshman and sophomore years when she was in her honors-level dance repertory classes.
“I think Reiko has a lot of energy and a positive aurora that she brings to the dance studio,” Monsanto said.
Reiko’s favorite type of dance is hip-hop.
“I just love how it’s not supposed to look pretty and you’re not supposed to do certain movements in a certain technique,” she said. “You’re just supposed to have fun or be sharp or dance hard.”
As part of the scholarship application, Serrato choreographed her first solo routine, which is something she said she’s proud of.
Serrato will be performing her own solo piece at the Florida Honors Concert in Tampa on Saturday, Feb. 2, where the scholarship will be presented to her.
“I’m very thankful I got this and it means a lot to me because I’ve had my ups and downs with dance, and to be given one of the highest achievements for a dancer in the state of Florida almost proves to people that you can do anything you want,” Serrato said.
So far, Serrato has applied to about 10 universities for performing arts programs, mostly in New York and California. She has big dreams of dancing for professional music videos, film and TV. But in the meantime, she said she isn’t letting any possible rejections dampen her spirit.
“It doesn’t hurt,” she said. “It assures me that maybe this wasn’t the right opportunity for me. But that I should try again next time or I should try harder or do something different. Just because you don’t win everything doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It just maybe wasn’t the spot for you.”
Serrato is inspiring younger dancer with her optimistic mindset. In 2018, she worked with Rymfire Elementary School students in a group called the “Rymfire Dance Pals.”
“She’s very good at leading other students,” Monsanto said. “She’s a good role model.”
As Florida’s first-place winner, Serrato will now vie for the national title, which includes a $1,000 scholarship toward college. The scholarship applicants were rated based on the strength of their technical and artistic merit, leadership, four essay questions, GPA, a recommendation letter and resume.
“It’s my whole world; it’s everything that I can think of to do,” she said.