Arbutus resident Emily Ruppert has spent this summer flipping, jumping and dancing her way across the Radio City Music Hall stage in New York City.
Her acrobatic gymnastics crew, AcroArmy, is scheduled to compete Tuesday as one of the final 12 teams on the NBC prime time television show "America's Got Talent." On Wednesday, the crew will find out if viewers' votes allow them to advance to the show's finale.
Three of the 18 AcroArmy team members reign from the Baltimore area: Twenty-year-old Ruppert, 18-year-old Chrissy Antoniades of Sykesville and 15-year-old Hannah Silverman of Clarksville have trained together at Emilia's Acrobatics and Gymnastics Training Center in Columbia for the past five years.
AcroArmy, made up of 18 acrobatic gymnasts from different parts of the country, was brought together by choreographer Arthur Davis, two-time world champion acrobatic gymnast and finalist on the first season of "America's Got Talent." The team was formed earlier this year specifically to audition for the talent competition.
Ruppert, Antoniades and Silverman know how to handle stiff competition. In the past five years, the trio has competed internationally – performing routines set to music that include dance, tumbling and acrobatics in countries including England, France, Switzerland and Germany. The three have made their mark on the sport, earning the 2012 Junior Elite Women's Group National Championship before going on to become the Senior Elite Women's Group National Champions in 2013 and 2014.
For Ruppert, a 2011 graduate of Seton Keough High School, "America's Got Talent" presented an opportunity to continue in a sport she loves. She graduated in May from the Community College of Baltimore County and has been accepted to Parsons the New School for Design in New York.
Ruppert said she wants a career in the fashion industry, but would be happy to put design school on hold if things go well on the show.
"When the show ends, I don't want AcroArmy to end," she said during a phone interview. "I want to continue showing the world what we can do."
Her mom, Beth Ruppert, said she and other AcroArmy moms have been traveling to New York regularly to watch AcroArmy perform live and spend time with their children.
"A lot of things go through my mind when they're performing," Beth said. "Nervousness, a lot of pride because they've worked so hard, and genuine happiness because even though it's a lot of work, they're having fun."
Daniil Kostovetskiy, one of the trio's coaches and owner of Emilia's Gym, said the girls practice six days a week for three or four hours a day year round and "have earned this success."
"[Acrobatic gymnasts] need to be strong and flexible, but also intelligent," said Kostovetskiy. "The skills are dynamic with throwing and catching, and balance – it's a huge responsibility for the big girls to throw the little girls into the air and catch them every time."
Kostovetskiy, who was a national acrobatics champion in the Ukraine before going on to coach the Ukrainian and Soviet teams in the 1970s and 1980s, said acrobatic gymnasts put in countless hours due to the difficulty of the moves they perform.
"It's risky for the kids, and the coaches," Kostovetskiy said. "People don't think it's possible for them to do what they do, that's why this team is so popular on 'America's Got Talent.' "
The competitors admit "America's Got Talent" has presented challenges. In addition to being away from home for weeks on end, training for eight to 10 hours a day and working with new teammates, the girls also must learn new moves and routines in days rather than months.
"We're used to learning something and practicing it all year, perfecting it," said Silverman, a sophomore at River Hill High School. "Now we're learning routines and skills in a week. It's hard, but we can do it."
"This has all been so exciting," said Antoniades, a June graduate of Century High School. "We've gotten to meet so many different people and experience so many different things."
The girls agree some of the most surreal moments of the experience are those following live performances when they are waiting for the celebrity judges to offer feedback.
"It's definitely nerve wracking because we don't want to get bad critiques," Antoniades said. "But we're very open minded, so we use what they say to make our next performance stronger."
"They only said nice things after our last performance," she added regarding the Sept. 2 routine. "And [judge and fashion model] Heidi Klum said we're a million dollar act, so you can't get better than that."
Along with wowing audiences and meeting celebrities – in addition to Klum, judges are comedian Howie Mandel, radio personality Howard Stern and Melanie Brown, aka Mel B of the Spice Girls – the three emphasized how important it is to them to be showcasing acrobatic gymnastics.
"We just want to get the sport out there and known, because not many people are familiar with acrobatic gymnastics," Antoniades said. "It's a good way to promote our sport and show how great it really is."
"We're competing against so many other kinds of acts, not just other people doing acrobatics," Silverman said. "We're competing for the whole community of acrobatics, not just for us."
Silverman's mom, Lisa Jox, said the family met with Hannah's teachers before leaving for New York and Hannah has been using tutors provided by the show to keep up with her school work. Cheering on the family gymnast is her father, Michael Silverman, older sister Elena, 17, a senior at River Hill; and younger brother, Barrick, 13, an eighth grader at Clarksville Middle School.
"When your kids are born you never expect that they will be on stage at Radio City Music Hall," Jox said. "I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it, it's so overwhelming."
"I'm not sure she truly understands or appreciates the magnitude of all of this at 15," Jox said. "It might be a cold dose of reality when she comes back to real life."
Antoniades' mother Sabine Antoniades said she and the girl's father, Pete Antoniades, and older sister Natalie Antoniades have been following the competition with pride.
"Finally seeing her dream come true with this is very emotional," Sabine Antoniades said. "This is what she worked for her whole life, to do something with her gymnastics."
AcroArmy "has accomplished a lot in a little bit of time. I totally look up to [choreographer Arthur Davis] for handling all of them because I know one teenager is hard to handle, but 17 of them, he must be pulling his hair out," she laughed. "It's very exciting to see how far they've come from their first routine and each round Arthur is really pumping it up and making it better and better."
The "America's Got Talent" finale is scheduled to air Sept. 16-17. The winning act gets $1 million. Twelve acts remain out of the original 48 that made it through preliminary auditions.
Going into Tuesday's round, AcroArmy was the only acrobatics/gymnastics group remaining in the competition.