Young dancers from across the country will have the opportunity to perform during celebrations of London’s 2012 Olympic Games thanks to the work of a nonprofit organization led by a University of Central Florida doctoral student.

The London Invitational is organized by the group Performing Arts Educators. Directed by Carrie Straub, the organization stages youth productions in globally known venues with the goal of encouraging young performers to practice their crafts in inspiring, non-competitive environments.

“Instead of having a trophy motivate the performers, we want the venue to inspire them,” Straub said. “It’s about engaging kids and giving them chances to collaborate and express themselves.”

Performing Arts Educators was founded in 2000 by Straub’s father, and it’s based in Winter Park. The organization has previously held performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, as well as at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Straub is a graduate of UCF’s exceptional student education master’s program. She recently defended her dissertation, the final step before earning a Ph.D. in exceptional education from the College of Education.

Performing Arts Educators recruited nearly 1,200 performers from across the United States to participate in its six upcoming London showcases.

There is no formal audition process, and studios are free to develop their own routines with minimal intervention from Performing Arts Educators. When the nonprofit does step in, it is to educate teachers about leadership, teach studios about raising funds for travel and lodging, and mobilize families to support their young performers.

The routines will come together during the festival-style performances, a format that best allows performers to express themselves and where they come from, explained Straub. Past festivals have included everything from choral performances to showcases of Indian dance and mariachi music.

This summer’s performance venues are Island Gardens, a Victorian-era park that sits on the Thames River, and Warwick Castle, a 1,000-year-old landmark in the English countryside. Showcases will be held on weekends beginning July 28 and running through Aug. 12.

Nearly nine million tickets were distributed for the Olympic Games, which will be held from July 27 to Aug. 12. Those traveling with Performing Arts Educators will be among the millions of visitors to England this summer, and they’ll tour Olympic zones as well as sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye.

Straub leaves for London this week to finalize preparations for the showcases. After nearly four years of planning, she’s most looking forward to seeing the colorful works the young dancers and their teachers have come up with.

“When they come and do performances they’ve been working on for three years, it means something to them,” said Straub. “It can be emotional, and it’s exciting to see how meaningful the opportunity is. Kids remember this for the rest of their lives.”

To learn more about Performing Arts Educators, visit For more on the College of Education, go to