For Next Generation Ballet trainee Neal Burks, competing in this weekend's Youth America Grand Prix's Tampa semi-finals will be especially exciting. Burks’ mom Makeda Oates surprised him on Wednesday when she showed up at his rehearsal.
A logistics coordinator with a military contractor in Afghanistan, she hasn’t seen her son in almost a year.
“It was breathtaking to watch him [in practice]," said Oates. "I knew he’d come further than he was last year, but I didn’t expect to see such high kicks. He’s come a long way.”
Oates is in her second tour in Afghanistan and has spent at least the last four years out of the country. Neal lives in Tampa with his grandmother, having relocated from Jacksonville in 2013 to train with NGB.
Oates is excited for the opportunity to see her son perform in the competition this weekend, having missed him in the Nutcracker in December. She leaves Sunday to return to Afghanistan.
“[NGB faculty] are definitely taking him to the next level. I could see that from the last time,” she said. “It’s a blessing for him to be here.”