Rebecca Zaneski leaps into the air, ponytail flying, legs forming a 180-degree split.
Twirling and tumbling, standing on her hands — it’s all part of her preparation for a whimsical, acrobatic dance she’ll perform later this month at the America’s National Teenager competition in Nashville, Tennessee.
To a casual observer Zaneski’s dance, which she will perform dressed as a scarecrow, looks perfect.
But the 18-year-old Wyoming Valley West graduate is constantly looking for ways to improve.
“We’re working on her flexibility,” said Michael Brown, a former gymnast who is coaching Zaneski at the Arts in Movement Academy of Dance in Taylor.
When Brown kicks his own foot back, his toes graze his head. Zaneski isn’t quite there yet, but she’s pleased with the strength and stamina she can bring to a dance performance, a cheer-leading event or a pageant.
Watching Rebecca work toward her goals is self-described “momager” Linda O’Boyle Zaneski, who remembers her own pageant days.
In 1991 the former Linda O’Boyle was crowned Miss Pennsylvania, which qualified her for the Miss America Pageant. Visit her home office and you’ll see the “Non-Finalist Talent” trophy she won for her tap routine during the national competition in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her swimsuit award from the state pageant holds another place of honor in a room filled with so many sashes it’s easy to lose count.
Urged by her dance instructors, Linda entered her first pageant as a teen and was excited to win a scholarship that helped pay tuition at Wilkes University, where she studied nursing.
She started her daughter much earlier. Since preschool days, Rebecca has participated in at least 100 pageants. Maybe 200.
Over the years she collected so many sparkling rhinestone crowns that, when the family moved to a new home in Edwardsville two years ago, she kept only a few shelves’ worth and donated the rest.
“I love being on stage,” said Rebecca, who hopes to win a scholarship that will help with her tuition as she enters Misericordia University’s freshman class to work toward a career as an orthodontist.
Rebecca won the Miss Pennsylvania National Teenager title during a tri-state competition in New Jersey, which allows her to represent her home state in the national pageant in Nashville from Tuesday through July 28. She and her family, which includes dad Stanley and brother Stanley, will leave for Tennessee in a few days.
This pageant could be a stepping stone to the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, Linda said, and if Rebecca should ever win that state title, the Zaneskis could become the first mother and daughter to each represent the Keystone State in the Miss America Pageant.
But even if Rebecca doesn’t follow in her mom’s footsteps to that extent, they’re enjoying the journey.
“These pageants have given her a lot of confidence,” Linda said of her daughter. “She really shines onstage.”