Growing Up Britney

Britney Spears may have taken the world by storm with her smash hits, sexy good looks and now her promising new acting career in Hollywood, but, to those who knew her as a kid it's not all that surprising.

Want to know more about the sexy young not-quite-a wonder woman? Her former childhood dance coach, Steve Hood, says that her rise to fame was inevitable. Talking exclusively from his Louisiana home, he reveals how the ambitious youngster beat the odds to become America's most popular pin-up and pop princess.

Not an easy task according to her childhood coach.

"I mean this was not L.A or Hollywood. This was Kentwood, Louisiana an extremely conservative, working-class village where singing and dancing were seen as a total waste of time," explains Hood, 33, who still lives and teaches in and around Britney's hometown a small place with less than 3,000 residents, in southeast Louisiana and just northeast of New Orleans.

"The only thing kids were encouraged to do here was go to church, leave school and get married anything else simply wasn't an option. Singing and dancing was something other people did on television and it was certainly not something for the likes of us."

And Hood knows only too well he struggled for many years trying to convince his unsupportive family and friends that he could make a living from dance.

"People had very closed minds here. No one liked change and everyone just did exactly what was expected of them and that was it until Britney came along and proved them all wrong by becoming a star."

But, when Hood first met the talented youngster, he had no idea that the little girl with the big voice would go on to become such a huge international sensation.

"I didn't exactly meet her the first time she came to our dance studio, but, I certainly heard her. I was coaching her best friend also called Britney in a group class, when we suddenly heard this powerful voice echoing through the building. When I went to check, there was Britney in the middle of the corridor outside our class, singing her heart out.

Why? "Because she felt like it," says Hood.

"That's what made her stand out. It was her first time at the dance studio. She wasn't even waiting to attend a class she was simply waiting for a friend when she decided to launch into song.

"Her voice was so strong and so very loud that you couldn't miss her and I remember being stunned that there wasn't a single ounce of shyness about his sweet looking eight-year-old," says Hood, who went on to coach her in dance, gymnastics (she excelled in floor exercises and the uneven bar), beauty pageant and cheerleading.

"It seemed strange for such a young child to be so confident. That's when I knew she was different from all the other kids who came to our dance studio, but I couldn't have predicted her success," says Hood.

"I had been dancing professionally for many years before Britney came along and I didn't even know how to go about promoting myself or that it was possible to go any further in dancing and here was this little girl from our sleepy village who knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to become a star she often said so!

"It's as if she didn't really need classes to get where she was going, she was already so professional and focused when she got here. She simply dropped in and out classes, but mainly she came for gymnastics or to brush up her dance moves for local beauty pageants and cheerleading a big thing down here in the South.

"I still don't know where her confidence and ambition came from; she was unlike any little girl I'd ever coached before," explains Hood, who taught the young Britney for less than one year before she made the big time in 1989.

And, of course, wherever Britney went, her proud, schoolteacher mom, Lynne, 46, was never far behind.

"They were always together, giggling and asking me for advice on a costume or a particular song Britney was rehearsing for one of the many beauty pageants she competed in."

And Steve means competed. These pageants were serious business and Britney was a serious competitor.

"It was funny watching Britney as a child, one minute she would be this mature and serious, competitive performer next she would switch into being a giggling school kid again but she always acted the star.

And she didn't need much encouragement.

"Her mom was very positive and emotionally supportive of Britney's goals and achievements, but without being a pushy parent.

"I look at her now and she hasn't really changed at all, apart from her hair color it used to be shoulder length and brown. She was always a very slim and athletic looking child.

Britney stopped coming to the Hood's dance studio when she auditioned and was accepted for Star Search at the age of nine.

And it wasn't long before the little girl with the big voice was on TV performing her first appearance as a Mouseketeer. The rest, of course, is pop history.

Since her meteoric rise to stardom, Britney has sold more than 12 million albums, hosted her own TV special and is now starring in her first movie, Crossroads.

"Looking back, I think eight-year-old Britney inspired me to push my own career forward. I thought if this little girl can do it so can I."

And he did. Now he runs his own dance studio in Baton Rouge and is about to release his first dance video.

And not surprisingly Britney, has even turned her hometown of Kentwood upside down since her rise to the top. The town has opened a museum in her honor as a direct response to a flood of calls to state and local tourism councils from fans anxious wanting to visit the Britney's old haunts.

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