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Modesty, frugality is important to Miss New York City

Published: Friday, Aug. 12 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

SPRINGVILLE — Hannah Wright has always been pretty bold about stating who she is and what her faith means to her.

She relied on it when she was a teenager attending Juilliard in the summers and she relied on it when she competed in local, state and national beauty pageants, even when that meant choosing between modesty and the kind of fashion others assured her could help her win the crown.

She was the only contestant in the Miss New York City scholarship pageant who wore a one-piece swimsuit.

During the competition, she openly discussed and defended her religious beliefs with her fellow contestants and with the judges and made sure that no one misunderstood what she wanted to represent as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"When you stick to who you are, they (the judges and the other contestants) notice you more," Wright said in an interview with The Deseret News. "I was representing myself, not playing a role, so modesty, for instance, was really important to me always."

Wright was recently in Utah for her temple wedding, something she would have put on hold if she'd won the state pageant and needed to take time out to prepare for the Miss America Scholarship Pageant.

"If I'd won (Miss New York) there would have been no wedding this weekend," Wright said. "As it is, I'm actually in Utah and being married."

She was married to Daniel Neeleman on July 28 in the Manti Temple..

Not winning the state crown meant she would pass on her crown a few months early to marry a man she met during Thanksgiving break last year.

Home-schooled, the daughter of Chad and Cherie Wright and child number eight in a family of nine children, Wright is no stranger to pressure, the stage and opportunity.

She knew she wanted to be a dancer from grade school on and spent two summers at Juilliard on scholarships when she was 14 and 15. She started attending Brigham Young University at the age of 16 on a full scholarship to the university's theatre ballet. She auditioned for placement at Juilliard and is currently a senior at the prestigious fine arts school.

She competed for the title of Miss Springville as a way to pay for her schooling and became Miss Springville at age 17, using her talent as a dancer to propel her to the top spot.

She then went on to compete in Miss Utah at 18 where Ken Nelson, a judge for the New York state pageant, noticed her, took her aside and suggested she compete for Miss New York City.

"I was kind of done with pageants," Wright said. "I was kind of the second runner-up queen. I'd been second runner-up at Miss Utah and second runner-up at the Miss National Sweetheart competition."

In the Miss New York City pageant, she claimed all three preliminary event prizes in evening gown, talent and interview competition. She was the single contestant to wear a one-piece in the swimwear competition.

She was also one of the few who paid less than $1,000 for her evening gown.

"I've never paid more than $300 for a dress," she said. "I was almost persuaded this year because I was going for it and people told me I needed this $2,000 gown. I thought about how much school that would pay for and didn't buy it, but I won evening gown anyway."

She came in, again, as second runner-up in the Miss New York state pageant, but ultimately came away with no regrets.

She not only felt she did her best but she had repeated opportunities to share her testimony of The Book of Mormon and to explain her life beliefs.

She made lifelong friends (Miss New York 2011 attended her wedding reception in Utah) and felt good about her choices.

From here she's going on to finish her schooling, enjoy being married and one day perhaps dance with Ballet West as a professional.

"It was more important to me to share the gospel than to win," she said. "Every day we had conversations about what I was wearing. It was such a neat experience."

Nelson said all members of the board must remain neutral regarding who becomes the state representative, so the encouragement he gave Wright was no different than that he would offer any young woman in whom he recognized such talent and potential.

"I knew that as a result, that simply by participating she would contribute to her community, win scholarship to continue her studies and grow in ways that were immeasurable," he said. "After she did participate in our state pageant, I knew my instincts were right. She is not only talented but a genuine, giving and a very special young woman.

"Anyone who has been fortunate enough to see her dance and/or learn from her (did you know she has volunteered with kids in Harlem to teach dance?) is indeed lucky."

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