Phoebe Kochis is proof that with dedication and determination, anything is possible.
When Phoebe Kochis first watched an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, she told her mom “I’m going to go on that show.”
Kochis, 19, has been a dancer for the past 16 years, and that dream began when she was just five. However, because she has Down syndrome, those dreams were often doubted.
“We were told when she was born not to get our hopes up and not to expect much,” Phoebe’s mother, Jeanie Kochis, tells PEOPLE. “She would never do normal things like ride a bike or potty train, even.”
But Phoebe wasn’t to be stopped. Not only did she audition for the show, but she’s heading to the Academy week as a special guest of judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe.
“I was very excited,” Phoebe says of receiving the coveted golden ticket. While she couldn’t reveal much about what’s to come, Phoebe says she was “very excited” to receive that coveted golden ticket.
Despite the anticipation and years of training at two different dance studios, Phoebe says she wasn’t even nervous when she performed her audition, a jazz routine to “Tore My Heart” by OONA, for the show.
“I was really excited. It was so much fun,” Phoebe recalls.
What she was more concerned about, though, was whether or not the judges — Lythgoe, Laurieann Gibson, Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval, and Mary Murphy — and the audience would give her a chance.
“I was thinking there’s no way that they will respect me,” Phoebe admits.
But when Phoebe took the stage, the judges were all smiles and the audience cheered after each jump, extension, and split. And by the end of her performance, all four judges gave Phoebe a standing ovation.
“Every move you did, you did with confidence, with love, and compassion,” D-Trix said in his analysis. Murphy added, “Watching you have that much fun gave me so much joy.”
But when it came time to critique her for the competition, Lythgoe was honest — and generous. “Techniquewise, stacked up against the other dancers that are going to be in the Academy would prove really, really difficult for you,” he said. “I don’t believe we can put you into the competition, Phoebe, but I would love for you to come to the Academy as my guest and join in and enjoy yourself.”
The teen cried tears of joy as she thanked Lythgoe. “I just can’t wait,” she said.
Since her audition, Phoebe has made time for exploring a new style of dance: ballroom, which she says has been “really fun.”
Above all, she and her family hope that her audition encourages other kids with disabilities to pursue their dreams — or, as Phoebe likes to say, “reach for the stars.”
And she adds that she couldn’t have accomplished any of this without the support of her dance studios, friends and family, especially her mom: “She’s my biggest fan.”
So You Think You Can Dance airs Mondays on Fox.