Better late then never — for those who have been wondering how things turned out for the Southwest Virginia Ballet dancers in the 2017 New Prague Dance Festival, here's what happened, written by 16-year-old Maria Parnell, a rising senior at Lord Botetourt High School.

Thursday, July 6

Thursday marked the last day of the New Prague Dance Festival, and we awoke early for ballet class as usual. The day was steeped in a sense of finality as we attended our classes for the last time. We made sure to take pictures with all of our teachers to save for the scrapbooks. The performance was much less stressful than the previous nights, because we performed with the knowledge that nobody was judging our dances. We repeated two dances from other nights, the boys’ dance “Wait for Me” and the girls’ piece “Precision.” After exiting the stage, we prepared for awards and the gala by changing into our formal clothes.

The awards ceremony commenced when all the groups were done performing for the night. The atmosphere was tense with anticipation, yet warm with friendliness as speeches about the festival were made and a video of the festival was shown. Our group took home the second place award in Classical Dance, along with a third place award in Pedagogy for Mr. Pedro [Szalay, SVB artistic director] and a Special Talent award for our dancer Olivia Scott.

When the award ceremony came to an end, we made our way to the gala for a final celebration of the festival. The party took place in an old church with a cobblestone-paved outside area. We were struck by the beautiful location and the lavish array of artfully arranged foods. After several hours of enjoying the foods, drinks, and dancing, we took a bus ride full of laughing and singing back to the hotel before finally going to sleep late in the night.

Friday, July 7

We arose later in the morning on Friday, sleeping off the late night of the gala. The morning was spent exploring the streets of Prague with more depth.

We crossed the iconic Charles Bridge in order to see the other side of the city. We were accompanied by the Belgian group, whom we had grown very close to throughout the trip. With them, we shared many giggles and photographs, both serious and silly, as we toured the scenic city.

We were able to visit the famous John Lennon Wall along the way, and we were inspired by the brilliant colors and messages of hope, peace, and passion left by countless people. After several leg-numbing hours of walking, most of us settled down to a delicious lunch at a picturesque little restaurant nestled away in a street corner.

After a brief stop back at the hotel, we headed out once again to the National Theater of Prague for a tour prepared for us by the New Prague Dance Festival. We observed a model of the theater in its cool basement, marveled at the theater’s grandiose auditorium and rooms, learned interesting history and facts about the theater from our guide, and ended the tour with a visit to the roof, which had a breathtakingly beautiful view of the city.

After our tour we returned once more to our hotel to freshen up and change before seeing a show back at the theater. The conglomeration of contemporary pieces we saw was intriguing and innovative; the performance mixed striking choreography with mind-bending technology and lighting, creating captivating optical illusions. After the superb performance, we finished off our day eating out at a small restaurant which served incredible Italian food before returning one last time to our hotel for the night.

Saturday, July 8

Our final day in Prague passed in a whirlwind.

We began our day off with a trip to the Grishko store, where we spent a while perusing the high-quality leotards, trying to decide the most we could afford with our dwindling budgets. Afterwards, we began a long trek uphill through the city on our way to a scenic little restaurant high on the mountain with a view overlooking the city of Prague. Though the walk up seemed to take ages, it was more than worth it to see the sights. We enjoyed rich desserts including tiramisu and apple cobbler after our main meal.

On the way back down into the city, we spent more time stopping at little stores. We looked into a puppet store with beautifully crafted wares, a gingerbread shop that smelled of Christmas, and various small souvenir stores offering cheap gifts. We later made a stop at a tea store with an endless selection of loose leaf teas in rounded glass jars.

One of our final stops before the hotel was Prague’s Ice Bar. We were handed thick, insulated ponchos coated in a silver material reminiscent of space suits and were led into the frozen part of the bar. There were ice sculptures, objects frozen into the walls, and an ice throne. Even the drinks were served in blocks of ice, but they were prone to leaking.

We finally returned to the hotel for some final packing, ate dinner one last time in the nearby mall, and bought some of our beloved trdelniks before turning in for the night. These final desserts tasted like a sweet kiss goodbye to the city we had grown to love.

Sunday, July 9

The day traveling home was bittersweet; we were all sad to leave the place at which we had made so many wonderful memories but eager to be home once more. Our teacher Roberta and one of the announcers, David, escorted us to our van taking us to the airport and wished us well. The plane rides and layovers back were slightly more subdued than the first time because we were all exhausted and ready to arrive in Virginia.

Finally, we arrived at Roanoke Airport that night to a gathering of our loved ones. Though weary, we were all tremendously thankful for the opportunity we had to take this trip to Prague. The people we met, the experience we gained, and the memories we made will truly stay with us for the rest of our lives.

— Maria Parnell

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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