Clarksville teen aims high as member of 'America's Got Talent' finalists AcroArmy

Clarksville resident Hannah Silverman has spent this summer flipping, jumping and dancing her way across the Radio City Music Hall stage in New York City.

On Tuesday, the 15-year-old River Hill High School sophomore will perform those feats with a chance of winning part of a $1 million prize.

Silverman is a member of the acrobatic gymnastics crew AcroArmy, a team scheduled to compete as one of six finalists on the NBC television show "America's Got Talent." On Wednesday, the crew will find out if viewers' votes make them a million-dollar act.

This past week, the team made the cut in a round that narrowed the competitors from 12 to six. AcroArmy is the lone dance act advancing to the finals; it will compete this coming week against a musical group, three solo singers and a magician.

"We're competing against so many other kinds of acts, not just other people doing acrobatics," Silverman said before Tuesday's round. "We're competing for the whole community of acrobatics."

From her home base, the success prompted a Twitter post from the River Hill High dance program late Tuesday proclaiming, "Acro Army made it to the finals!!!!!! So excited for Hannah!!!!!"

Three of the 18 members of AcroArmy are from the Baltimore area and share a Howard County connection. Silverman, along with 20-year-old Emily Ruppert of Arbutus and 18-year-old Chrissy Antoniades of Sykesville, have trained together at Emilia's Acrobatics and Gymnastics Training Center in Columbia for the past five years.

Daniil Kostovetskiy, owner of Emilia's, 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," Kostovetskiy said. "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."

AcroArmy, made up of acrobatic gymnasts from different parts of the country, was brought together by choreographer Arthur Davis, two-time world champion acrobatic gymnast and a finalist on the first season of "America's Got Talent." The team was formed this year specifically to audition for the talent competition.

Ruppert, Antoniades and Silverman know how to handle stiff competition. In the past five years, they have competed internationally — performing their blend of 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.

The three acknowledge that "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. "Now we're learning routines and skills in a week. It's hard, but we can do it."

Silverman's mother, 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 schoolwork.

Also 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. It might be a cold dose of reality when she comes back to real life."

For teammate Ruppert, a 2011 graduate of Seton Keough High School, "America's Got Talent" presents 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 aspires to 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."

Antoniades, a June graduate of Century High School, said the excitement has been balanced by nervousness when it came time for comments from the panel of four celebrity judges — fashion model Heidi Klum, comedian Howie Mandel, radio personality Howard Stern and Melanie Brown, aka Mel B of the Spice Girls.

"It's definitely nerve-racking 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."

The three also feel a responsibility to showcase 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."

Kostovetskiy, a national acrobatics champion in Ukraine before going on to coach the Ukrainian and Soviet teams in the 1970s and 1980s, said acrobatic gymnasts must put in countless hours because of the difficulty of the moves they perform.

"It's risky for the kids, and the coaches," he 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 show's finale is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Tuesday and 8 p.m. Wednesday, with final performances Tuesday and the results of viewers' votes revealed Wednesday.

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