Emily Hager, a 16-year-old student at Georgia Southern University and the Statesboro School of Dance, says her worst costume change ever was between the battle scene and the snow scene in the Nutcracker. After the battle scene there was a whirl of clothes and hairpins backstage in the dark. She says she had no idea what her make-up looked like, but when she finally got back on stage she breathed a sigh of relief: “Thank God, I made it!” Hager has that “thank God, I made it” attitude about so many aspects of her dancing career. Her mother, Melinda Roell, gave her dancing lessons as a birthday present when she was twelve. She danced her first solo in “Sleeping Beauty” when she was 13, a major accomplishment. Hager worked hard, backtracking in her spare time, learning and relearning what younger dancers knew. She attended summer camps: Kansas City Ballet, American Ballet Center for Dance Education. She danced in “The Lion King” and “The Nutcracker” with the Columbia City Ballet and in “Paquita” with the Savannah Conservatory of Dance. She studied with Shay Morgan, Pat Alley, Stacey Slichter, William Starrett, Karen Brown, Sean Dubois. She soloed in “Coppelia” and “Les Sylphides.” She caught up to and surpassed the level at which she was expected to perform. Hager became a star. She thrived on the performance, on the audience, on just how hard she could push herself. She says she doesn’t get very nervous before a performance because she focuses on her shoes and make-up. “I’m very particular about my shoes,” she says. She thinks about her appearance instead of her dance. “Only once have I gotten so nervous that I thought I might throw up—but that was also because I had just eaten a bunch of Nutter Butters,” she says. During a performance, Hager tries not to look to the sides of the stage but to the audience. She focuses on faces she doesn’t know, and tries to connect. That connection with the audience, the “just about dead” feeling after a performance, the dancing for hours and hours — Hager didn’t realize how important all of this was to her until she sprained her ankle in the middle of her performance as the cat in “Peter and the Wolf.” She had to sit out while her understudy, Mallory Lanier, took over. Hager suffered from depression during those four months of recovery, and she wrestled with herself about quitting ballet. GSU’s ballet camp began just as she was well enough to dance, and she decided to attend. “In the middle of a combination, I just started crying at the barre because I was so happy to be back,” she says She was happy to be back in a world of performance and practice, of costume and make-up, of fun and challenge, of shoes and nerve, of dreaming about a life with this dance company or that. Now, she is practicing for the April 29th performance of “The Four Seasons” at the Averitt Arts Center and the June 3rd performance of “Cinderella” at the PAC. “I’m Cinderella,” she says, beaming a little. Thank God, she made it.