San Leandro, Calif. — Avantika Vandanapu, a 9-year-old Indian American girl from Fremont, Calif., won second place in the first ever North American edition of Zee TV’s popular dance reality show “Dance India Dance L’il Masters.”

She was selected as one of the top 10 finalists from more than 10,000 contestants who auditioned for the competition in the U.S., Canada and Europe in May.

Avantika, the only winner from the West Coast, was then flown to India for the finals at Famous Studios in Mumbai June 5, where she placed second out of the three winners chosen in the televised contest.

In preparation for her performance in the finals, Avantika worked with teachers in both the U.S. and India, including putting in16-hour days in the sweltering heat of Mumbai. In less than 10 days, her team scrambled to select the song as per Zee TV’s requirements, prepare choreography, arrange for her costume and rehearse the dance.

The final competition had two rounds; in the first one, contestants had to showcase a one-and-a-half-minute routine, after which six performers were selected for the final dance-off. Avantika danced to a medley of two songs from the movie “Yuvraj.” The judges applauded her unique combination of two dance styles — contemporary and Kathak — as well as her expressions.

In round two, competitors were asked to perform an impromptu dance to popular music. Avantika impressed the judges with her performance of a novel style of Kuchipudi, a form of Indian classical dance, to a Bollywood number.

Describing to India-West via e-mail how Avantika felt after winning the prestigious competition, her mother Anupama Reddy said, “She is very happy … She says that it gives her encouragement of working even harder. She loves all the friendships she made with the other kids hailing from different parts of the U.S. and Canada.”

Avantika, who has been dancing for five years, has performed in more than 150 shows and competitions across the U.S. and India, including at the India Waves Dance Muqabla and the American Telugu Association’s national dance competition in Atlanta, Ga.

Parents Srikanth Vandanapu and Anupama Reddy are delighted with their daughter’s achievements. Reddy told India-West, “We feel very proud and ecstatic about our daughter working so hard and getting this level of recognition at such a young age. We love her passion to learn and excel, and would love to support her in any way we can. Winning all these competitions is just icing on the cake for us.”

Avantika’s early interest in dance was nurtured under the guidance of Ranjani Manda, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier dance teachers. She performed in group dances that won awards at prestigious competitions like ICC Youthsava and the Bay Area Telugu Association’s contest.

At the age of six, Avantika was deemed strong enough to begin learning the rigorous Indian classical dance form of Kuchipudi by her current teacher Hima Bindu Challa. Described by her mom as a “driven and self-motivated girl,” Avantika also enrolled in Rhythmic Gymnastics, a demanding blend of dance with gymnastics, to help her stay fit for her dance pursuits.

Reddy said, “Avantika started dancing even before she started walking. Dance is her passion and she would love to continue dancing. If only she had more time, she wants to learn so many other arts and sports.”

Avantika attends a dance class almost every day of the week and spends an hour at home practicing what she learns. When she is not dancing, Avantika enjoys painting, reading and swimming and is working towards getting to a competitive level of badminton.

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