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ART BEAT: Gwinnett teen dances her way to Scotland and back

She didn't actually see the Loch Ness Monster during her trip to Scotland this summer, but Gwinnett dancer Mary Avis Burnam did get to portray a Sea Monster during her performances of "The Little Mermaid" at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The 13-year-old Crews Middle School eighth-grader was one of 23 dancers from the U.S. to participate in this program generated from Burklyn Ballet in Vermont.

The Snellville teen auditioned for and was accepted to the prestigious Burklyn Ballet program for four weeks during the summer. Then, she was also selected to be a part of the group traveling to Scotland and performing at the largest arts festival in the world.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes place in Scotland's capital city each August for three weeks. Since 1959, the event has welcomed performers of all types from around the world, catering to every taste imaginable on stages placed around the city.

Mary Avis, who has danced with Gwinnett Ballet Theatre for the past nine years, was one of the youngest dancers to participate in Burklyn's Edinburgh Connection this year. The Connection is a two-week program, on selected years, for 25 dancers to travel with Burklyn Artistic Director Joanne Whitehall to Scotland and participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Dancers selected must attend Burklyn Ballet Theatre for the four weeks prior to leaving for Scotland to prepare for their performance.

"The Little Mermaid" offered Mary Avis two parts, that of a seahorse and a sea monster. Performing was only part of the adventure. Getting to see other performers from around the world, and interacting with people from other countries was a part of this very enriching experience.

"The Scottish people were extremely friendly and very eager to talk to us when we asked questions," said Burnam, whose mother, Missy, accompanied her on the trip.

"The audiences for our show were mostly children and their parents. They had a chance to come down and meet us after the show, which was a lot of fun," Burnam said. "The children were very polite and some were very shy. They were very proper and always thanked us for the 'lovely performance.'"

Friendly people were not the only attractions on the trip. "I loved how intricate and detailed all the buildings were in Scotland and how old everything was. There were parks everywhere and everything was so green and colorful."

Mary Avis and Missy were also able to tour Edinburgh Castle, shop the Royal Mile, see the Palace at Holyroodhouse, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Royal Botanical Gardens and more.

"We were there for two full weeks, and we had the time of our lives," Burnam said. "It was an experience we'll never forget."

Coming home won't exactly be a letdown for this middle school student who has maintained a 4.0 GPA since first grade. Her next artistic assignment will be as one of Gwinnett Ballet Theatre's Claras in "The Nutcracker," which is already in rehearsal.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com