Ocean View dancer Emilio Ruiters is slowly inching closer to raising the money he needs to attend a once in a lifetime talent-scouting convention in the US.
But his golden ticket to attending the iPOP! convention in Los Angeles had almost been a missed opportunity if it wasn't for his mom's determination.
After initially putting him off from attending the first round of the iPOP! auditions due to financial constraints, the single mom hatched a plan to get her son to the next round.
It just so happened to take place in another province.
Taking a bit of a risk, Marilyn scraped together some cash, bought a bottle of whiskey, and raffled it off to raise money for the trip to Port Elizabeth.
"She is literally my pillar of strength," Emilio told Parent24, adding that his mom is "amazingly independent and smiles through the toughest of times."
And talking to Marilyn on the phone, this trait was more than evident.
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A shared passion
Like her son, Marilyn had dreamt of being a dancer and choreographer, but a lack of resources meant she could not pursue her passion, a fact that the humble mom had never told her son.
As a teenager, she would arrange and lead dance classes for the younger children in her community but received very little assistance.
"I was thinking about myself, because there was no one helping me when I wanted to do it," she told us when we asked what had inspired her to take a chance on her son.
'No way we're getting there'
"I saw the next audition's venue would be in Port Elizabeth. I showed my mom, and we laughed because we knew there was no way we were getting there," Emilio recalls.
And even though he had no idea about his mom's plan to get him to the second round of auditions, he noticed something was up.
"She came from work at 5:30 pm and left the house at 6 pm with a page," Emilio says of his mom's strange behaviour.
"She eventually came with a bag of money, and she told me she put together a raffle to raise money, but it wasn't enough."
Inspired by her efforts, Marilyn's boss put together his own raffle, and one unbelievably hair-raising road trip later (which included being stranded at a garage and being rescued by an Uber driver), Emilio was finally at the audition.
'I was completely disappointed in myself'
But, another hurdle ended up getting the best of the 18-year-old dancer: unexpected stage fright.
"I practised a monologue but froze in front of the judge. I was completely disappointed in myself. I thought that I had wasted the money my mom gathered."
Marilyn remembers just how nervous her boy was, "He went blank thrice during his monologue, and I saw his clothes shaking. I just prayed to God for him to be calm"
And as luck would have it, Marilyn had yet another trick up her sleeve. "He actually wanted to act but I ticked off dance [on the application form] without him knowing."
So when the time came for the naturally shy teen to show off his dancing chops, Emilio did not disappoint.
"When I was dancing, the judge told me that I'm a completely different person to when I did the monologue. The judge also told me that I need to boost my confidence."
Taking the advice as an "I-did-not-make-it fact," Emilio left the audition venue exhausted, disappointed and convinced he would not be selected.
What happened later that day came as a complete shock.
'One of the very few chosen'
"My mom woke me up 7 pm that night, and when I checked my phone, this message showed up: 'Congratulations! Emilio made the call back list and is one of the very few chosen by us all.'"
Emilio says his accomplishment is proof "that nothing is impossible if you work towards your dream."
A proud Marilyn says she never imagined her son would make it this far, and echoing her his sentiments, she says she often finds herself saying, "It feels like a dream so let's just live this dream."
Of their fundraising efforts so far, the teen says "it's going, calmly, we halfway there."
Marilyn says they've been trying their best and their efforts to raise the money have included selling food and doing little events but it's been a slow process.
*Community members have set up a BackaBuddy page to assist Emilio with fundraising, and if you'd like to contribute visit Emilio to LA.
Emilio's trip to Los Angeles is set for this December, and if all goes to plan, he'll soon be a fellow alumni to a few famous faces including: Kellan Lutz of the Twilight Saga film series, Disney Channel regulars Olivia Holt and Davis Cleveland; model Jamahl Thompson, Dexter actor, Lucas Adams; Super 8 actor Ryan Lee and singer, Chris Brochu.
Here's a look at the convention:
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