TC grad Vizzi always cool under pressure
Dania Vizzi begins her dance with a split, before stretching her left leg behind her ear, twisting into a backward pretzel, swinging into another split while leaning back to touch her right foot to her head.
The rest of the twisting and flipping — which is inconceivable — is there to view on YouTube.
Under the dancing video is a TV news story about Dania Vizzi shooting shotguns for the U.S. Olympic team.
Vizzi, an 18-year-old who just graduated from Tampa Catholic, is among the country's top teenage dancers and one of its best skeet shooters — at any age.
In the past year, she qualified among thousands of applicants for the Juilliard Dance Intensive, arguably the world's most renowned dance school in New York City, and for the junior U.S. Olympic skeet shooting development team.
“I know that might sound a little odd,” Vizzi said with bright eyes and a big smile. “But I love both.”
At the moment, and perhaps for a long time to come, it will probably be more about the shooting than the dancing.
“For one thing,” Vizzi said, “I know it's tough to make a living as a dancer.”
For another, she has an uncanny ability to blast clay pigeons whizzing through the air at 56 mph. She is so good at it, in fact, that after a mere two years of serious shooting, she looks like a legitimate contender for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“If (Vizzi) continues to improve at her current rate, then I'd say yes, she has a shot at the (2016 Olympics),” said Craig Hancock, a U.S. Olympic shooting coach and father of Vincent Hancock, a gold medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. “It looks like she has what it takes.”
In large doses, Vizzi is strong, coordinated, quick, balanced, focused, calm, happy, determined and eager to compete — all virtues, she says, she got from dancing since age 3.
“I really don't get nervous because I've performed on stages my whole life,” she said. “I get excited. I get focused. But not nervous.
“I think that calmness is probably my biggest advantage (in shooting).”
Between rounds at competitions, many shooters hunker down in silent concentration. Vizzi hangs out and chats it up.
“I'm a social person,” she said. “It's how I relax.”
But when she's shooting, it's all business. She says, “Pull” and the four-inch clay pigeon flies out. She glides her 9-pound shotgun from her hip (a required beginning position under the rules), aims and fires. If the butt of the gun misses the shoulder position by even a quarter of an inch, the target is missed.
It's an intense, violent few seconds.
“It is,” Vizzi says with a soda-fizz giggle.
It wasn't always so much fun. The first time Vizzi fired a shotgun was three years ago at a range during a camping vacation in Lake Wales. She fired once.
“The kick hurt my shoulder,” she said. “It scared me.”
A few weeks later, after thinking about it quite a bit, Vizzi told her dad she wanted to go down the street to Silver Dollar Shooter's Club and try again.
“I don't know what it was,” Vizzi said, “but I was drawn to it.”
It wasn't long before she bought a $10,000 shotgun and began practicing nearly every day at Silver Dollar.
Pull, pull, pull … sitting behind her at the range, Dania's mom, Doree, presses the button to release the clay pigeons, and bang, bang, bang Dania fires. Thousands upon thousands of times.
At night at home in the living room, Dania would lift the gun from hip to shoulder (the required move) hundreds upon hundreds of times, trying to pinpoint that mount position. At first, she admits she had to rest after five reps because the gun was too heavy.
Now, she is competing for the U.S. against 60-plus countries this week at the International Shooting Sport Federation in Cypress.
She will follow that in July by representing the U.S. at the ISSF World Cup in Spain, and in Peru for the ISSF World Championship Shotgun event in September.
In between, she will begin her drive toward an accounting degree at the University of Florida, where she also will practice shooting at a nearby range and perform in the school's dance program.
But the dancing, she insists, is second to the shooting.
“I've gotten so much better (at shooting) so fast and I'm confident I'm going to get much better,” Vizzi said. “I really believe that if I keep working at it I can win (a gold medal) at the 2016 Olympics.”
Who would have thought Vizzi would have said that less than four years ago when she was twisting like a pretzel and gracefully leaping and twirling across the stage in a tutu?
“Not me,” mom Doree said.
“Me neither,” Dania said. “But it's happened and I'm so glad that it did.
“I absolutely love it.”