Eli Hernandez started dancing when he was 5 years old.
"I just like everything about dancing," he said last week at his dance team rehearsal. "There's always something else you can learn. Once you've mastered something, you've never really mastered it. You have to keep going."
The latest challenge for the East Austin College Prep junior: dancing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Eli attended a dance camp last summer where he auditioned for a national dance company. Spirit of America brings young dancers to New York to perform in the annual parade. He got a spot in the performance.
When he received the news that he would be dancing down the streets of New York, he says, he was shocked and excited. But his immediate concern was the cost to travel to New York. Without knowing how he'd make it happen, he was determined to find the money.
"I did not go through all of this just to not do this," Eli said.
The teachers and staff at East Austin College Prep pooled donations to pay for Eli's travel and lodging in New York. One of his biggest supporters in preparing for this opportunity is his coach, Erika Agrait.
"This is what teachers strive [for]," Agrait said. "To see someone from our student base representing our school in this kind of magnitude is really special."
Agrait said Eli's talent and passion is impressive, and likely what landed him this opportunity.
"When he's on that stage, you're just drawn to him," Agrait said. "His passion just shows through his performances.' He's one of those students who is "rare and lights up the stage."
Eli arrived in New York this past weekend and spent the week rehearsing for the performance. He said he can't imagine what it will feel like tomorrow when he's actually in the parade and on TV.
"I don’t think I’m going to react until I get there and see the cars passing by, all the people ... the buildings and the big lights and everything," he said. "It’s like, 'Wow, this is where I got to, this is what all this hard work paid off for.”