Ballerina-Turned-Shooter Turned Down Juilliard, And Now She Goes For A World Title In Shotgun

By Scott McDonald | Sept. 06, 2017, 2:20 p.m. (ET)
Dania Vizzi poses with her silver medal for junior women's skeet at the ISSF World Championships Shotgun at the Captain FAP Jose Quinones Shooting Range on Sept. 17, 2013 in Lima, Peru.

 

The hardest decision Dania Vizzi made in her young life was to give up a lifelong dream of dancing professionally. She passed up a chance to attend The Juilliard School of dance to pursue something completely polar opposite.

Vizzi gave up ballet to take up, um, shotgun shooting competitions.

Once she was on the verge of studying with the best dancers in the world. Now at age 22 she’s a world-class shooter taking aim at the shotgun world championships this week in Moscow.

“It was definitely one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make,” Vizzi said. “Dance is a career that you can do until you’re 27 or 28, and it’s something where you get judged on what you look like. It’s all about how thin you are, or your height. In shooting it doesn’t matter, and it’s a hit-or-miss sport. And shooting is something you can do forever.”

Not long ago, no one would’ve guessed Vizzi would become a savvy markswoman. During a family vacation at age 13, she begged her dad to let her try shooting his shotgun. After one shot, she went to tears. Based on that one shot, Vizzi swore off the notion of shooting again.

“The gun didn’t fit me and I was small, and I said I’m never doing this again,” Vizzi said. “When I was 16 I tried again, and my dad got me a smaller gun. He taught me how to put it on my shoulder, put my face on it and concentrate. I got hooked.”

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Then Vizzi started asking her father, A.J. Vizzi, to take her to the shooting range, which, much to her surprise, was only five minutes from her South Florida home.

She got pretty good at shooting, and then she got really good. She placed fourth at the 2011 junior national championships and then was a silver medalist at the 2012 Junior Olympic national championships. Her success at both dancing and shooting eventually intertwined. And that goes back into her beginnings in dance.

That career goes back to when she was 3 years old, when her parents signed her up as a means of introducing her to a new activity. By the time she was 6, she competed in jazz, tap, hip-hop, contemporary and ballet.

“I was real young when I started dreaming of going to The Juilliard School,” Vizzi said.

She excelled to the point that she got a tryout with The Juilliard School in New York City the summer before her senior year of high school, and she got an invitation to attend their intensive camp.

Vizzi didn’t shoot that summer because, well, she didn’t take a shotgun to New York.

Going into her senior year of high school, she had a tough decision to make — shotgun or ballet. She consulted her parents, but the decision was ultimately hers.

“I always ask my parents’ advice for everything, they’re my best friends,” Vizzi said. “They helped me see good and bad in both, but I made the decision myself.”

No one’s to say how successful she would have been in a dancing career, but it’s undeniable she’s proven to be a top shooter. She was a junior world champion in 2014, and she was the silver medalist at the 2016 U.S. championships. She followed that up with her first U.S. title in July, where she also set an American record with a score of 246 out of a possible 250

“My dad was so excited,” she said. “I had no idea I was close to the record, and he didn’t tell me.”

Now, the athlete who sometimes gets called “Shooterina” will aim for a world title in Russia, or at least see how well she fares against the best on the planet.

In Moscow, the University of Florida senior will compete in her first international event as an open athlete. She plans on continuing her craft and vying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and possibly 2024 in Paris as well.

She doesn’t know how long she’ll compete in shooting, but she has another venture in her sights.

“I want to be an NFL or hockey cheerleader,” she said, indicating she’d prefer to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Tampa Bay Lightning cheerleader.

But with her background, the sky’s the limit.

Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.