Since she was 2 years old, all Janelle Ginestra wanted to do was dance.
"My mom took me to a dance show when I was 2," she said. "I was tapping all through the performance, saying, 'I want to do that, I want to do that!' I bugged my mom for a month, and that's how it all started."
Now, the 18-year-old Johansen High graduate will get to show the whole world just what she has learned. Ginestra is one of 12 contestants on the new reality competition "Step It Up & Dance," premièring Thursday night on Bravo.
The series, hosted by actress/dancer Elizabeth Berkley, will pit finalists going step-for-step in weekly dance challenges, with the last dancer standing winning $100,000.
The mix of male and female dancers will be mentored by Emmy Award nominee and Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell ("Hairspray," "Legally Blonde") and will work with acclaimed choreographers Vincent Paterson (Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour, Michael Jackson's Bad Tour) and Nancy O'Meara ("Hannah Montana," High School Musical Tour).
Ginestra moved with her family to Modesto when she was 12 and attended Teal Middle School. While at Johansen, she danced and cheered
for the Starstruck All-Stars teams.
Trained in all styles of dance from tap to jazz, ballet and hip-hop, Ginestra spent hours practicing in her family's garage. "Mostly, what I did was buy carpet from Home Depot, put up mirrors on the garage walls and that's where I'd spend my time dancing," said Ginestra, whose favorite style is hip-hop.
After graduating from Johansen in 2006, she coached a Starstruck team. Ten months ago, she moved to Los Angeles. "I wanted to do bigger things than dance in my garage," she said. "I wanted to be known, so that's why I moved to L.A.; I've got to live my dream."
Since moving, Ginestra has been auditioning and living the "typical dancer's life."
About five months ago, her agent told her about auditions for the new Bravo reality competition. After a series of auditions, she learned she made the cut for the show.
She said the decision to appear on "Step It Up & Dance" was an easy one. "I think Bravo is a classy, awesome network," she said. "They don't focus on the drama; they focus on the talent. I was excited that I would be featured for my talent, not for anything else. I am doing this to show the world what I love to do and what I'm capable of."
While contractual obligations prohibit Ginestra from revealing details about the series or outcome, she said taping began a few months ago. The experience has been harder than she expected, she said. The pace is intense and hours are long.
"I have learned so much. At least I get to do what I love," she said. "This is my job. I am grateful I get to dance from 7 a.m. to midnight every day."
Ginestra's family is planning a private première party in Modesto on Thursday with her boyfriend, fellow dancer and teacher Simon Anowia.
"Step It Up" is not Ginestra's first TV exposure; as a child actress, she landed several national commercials and guest roles in series including "Providence" and Early Edition." She said she hopes appearing on the Bravo series will give her a foothold in the dance world and open other doors for her.
And, she said, she wants other aspiring dancers to follow in her footsteps to live their dreams.
"I hope they see that just because we're from a kind of small town, not to ever let that hold you back on your dreams. I didn't. I'm not a huge star, but I'm trying to make it and do what I want to do."
For more on Janelle Ginestra, her fellow contestants and the host and judges of "Step It Up & Dance," go to www.bravotv.com/Step_It_Up_And_Dance.
Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.