When he made his debut a year ago as the Nutcracker Prince, New Port Richey's William Dugan was just 14 and a bundle of nervous energy.
He'll dance the lead role again for the Next Generation Ballet's opening performance Dec. 22, but now Dugan is a year older and wiser.
"This time, since I've had more stage experience, I'm not really thinking about it a lot," Dugan said. "I still have butterflies, but not as many butterflies."
Dugan, who began studying ballet at the Patel Conservatory at age 10, is now a full member of the Next Generation Ballet. "My dancing has gotten way better this year," Dugan said. "I feel so much more knowledgeable, and that makes me more confident as a dancer. I'm stronger and more flexible, I'm more well-rounded."
Artistic Director Peter Stark said Dugan was a bit of a "late bloomer" compared with other teens who started training at a much earlier age. His dancing has matured since last year's Nutcracker, Stark said.
"He's looking really wonderful," Stark said. "I think there's a physical aspect to confidence. Your spine is straighter. Your posture is different."
Dugan has competed in international dance competitions in New York and China. He completed a summer workshop in Miami and earned a sponsorship to dance at the Carreno Festival in Sarasota.
In February, he'll travel to Switzerland to compete in Prix de Lausanne competition. Sixty-five male dancers from across the world auditioned for the two-week competition. Fewer than 40 — only seven Americans — were accepted.
"These are the most elite dancers in the world," Stark said. "Every single one of them will be a professional dancer with a company somewhere."
Dugan said he will perform a classical variation from Coppelia, as well as a contemporary piece. It's the opportunity of a lifetime. "The Prix de Lausanne is very prestigious," Dugan said. "What you hope to gain are scholarships to study abroad."
The last Patel student who competed at the Prix de Lausanne earned a full scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. "My dream would be to go to the Royal Danish Ballet School in Copenhagen," Dugan said. "I would rather go somewhere different."
But first, he has a mouse to slay and a date with Clara in a magical world of "The Nutcracker, the Great Imperial Ballet" at the Straz Center for Performing Arts in Tampa on Dec. 22-23. This year's show features more than 190 performers — the largest cast ever.
"It's the same beautiful production, but I have a different Clara this time," he said.