Over the course of one night last September, ballet dancer Eliana Girard performed a pasodoble scored to a Daft Punk song, a classical ballet number set to a theme from “The Nutcracker,” and a Broadway routine, complete with a stripper pole, to a salacious tune from “Chicago.” For the 21-year-old from West Palm Beach, it was another day at the office in an exhausting summer as a contestant on Fox’s ratings dynamo, “So You Think You Can Dance!”

The back story: Culled from thousands of people who auditioned, Girard made it onto the series’ “Top 20,” where she went on to win the viewer-supported title of America’s Favorite Female Dancer—and a cash prize of $125,000. The first ballet dancer to win the top prize in the show’s nine-season history, Girard mastered everything from hip-hop to quickstep, dancing up to six routines in one two-hour show.

Not bad for a girl who says she “didn’t even like dance” when she first tried it, at age 3. The onetime student at Dreyfoos School of the Arts recently completed a nationwide “So You Think You Can Dance!” tour and is hoping to join a concert dance company and break into the acting world.

In her own words: “The first day rehearsing a number, you get about an hour and a half. You don’t finish the number, usually. You just get an idea of what it is. The second day you get five hours with the choreographer. And for the rest of it, it’s all up to you and your partner to rehearse and make sure you’re giving what the choreographers are asking of you.

“[Having to stop the show because of the Olympics broadcast] hurt us. We were one or two weeks in and starting to see how our bodies worked and how we could handle this, and then we had to stop. It’s almost like you’re running a marathon—and you stop halfway and go back to it the next day. It ruins your momentum. This show has its own stamina because it’s so difficult, and it takes a while to develop that. So we had to develop that and then re-do it again, which was even harder the second time.

“Only the Lord knows how I had all the energy for so many numbers in one night. There was a lot of prayer. As we were doing quick costume changes to make it before the commercial break, I just kept telling myself, ‘This only happens once. I get to sleep tonight and relax tomorrow. I have no excuse but to go balls to the wall.’

“I never realized how nerve-wracking it would be to wait onstage for the results every week. Watching the show, I thought, ‘I bet they’re not that nervous. A lot of times, I thought they already knew the answer, and they pretended to be surprised. I had all these scenarios of what I thought it would be like, but none of them were true. I was trembling.

“My life has changed tremendously, for the better. This whole process has made me grow as an artist even more. Networking and meeting all these incredible choreographers made me realize how much more there is to learn. To hear stories about how the show has touched people’s lives has broadened my perspective to different ways to reach out and help people and just realize how the arts and dance can be such an incredible outlet for therapy.”

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