By Katie Murphy, Observer – August 4, 2006

Next Thursday, Juliana Zarou is doing something no other female in the United States has done before and she’s only 8-years-old. Zarou is competing in a national pizza dough-spinning competition.

Pizza dough spinning is an international sport that has been gaining interest in the United States. In 2000, the first U.S. pizza team consisted of three members. Now, the team has 15 members and a team trainer. The 2005 U.S. team has been featured on television, and so far has won four gold medals, one silver and one bronze.

Caroline Felker, team coordinator, is one of the organizers for the national championship this year in Orlando, Fl. She said Juliana is the first female ever to enter as a pizza spinner. “She’s the first in every category, from the junior competition to the upper division and even on the U.S. Pizza Team,” Felker said.

Juliana said she’s practicing half an hour a day. Her family owns Don Corleone’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in the Cascades Market Place and passersby often see her practicing out front. “She practices a lot out front of the shop so she gets used to people watching her,” said Waleed Zarou, her father and owner of Don Corleone’s.

Juliana learned about the competition from her dad and started training for the event four months ago. Waleed Zarou said his daughter has been around him and his employees while they were spinning pizza dough and she wanted to learn. “She really got taken to it and we’ve had a lot of fun,” he said.

Juliana said her technique for spinning the dough is by holding it on her fingertips and twisting it at the same time she tosses it. She can already throw it pretty high. “I’ve hit the ceiling in my house,” she said.

Juliana can spin blindfolded and is working on perfecting a 360-degree spin while she throws the dough into the air.

Her father said he can’t believe that already she is getting better than he is. “If she stays with it and likes it she could be on the official pizza team, but you have to be 16 for that, so right now she’s being groomed to be the first girl on that,” said Waleed Zarou.

But if Juliana wins in Orlando, she’ll get a paid trip to defend the title next year and a paid trip to the world competition in Italy as the national junior champ.

Felker said the national competition is Aug. 10 to 12. It is divided into two age groups: 11 years old and under and 16 years old and under. The performance is scored on a 10-point scale on three categories: originality, presentation and difficulty of routine.

Originality is judged on the creativity in routine, music, new approaches to tossing, and new tricks. Presentation is determined by the entertainment value, choreographed, smoothness, and the connection with the audience. Difficulty is based on the variety of tricks and the difficulty of tricks. Drops are point deductions for the older age group. Contestants will have up to five minutes to perform their routine. Medals will be awarded to the top three winners.

Last year, Felker said, the junior competition had five competitors. This year there are 10. The pizza spinning competition collaborated with the World’s Yo-Yo Contest this year for both events to gain more recognition.

The competition is open to the first 10 people to register in each division. The registration fee is $55.

Juliana’s sisters, 7-year-old Nina and 4-year-old Sophia, will be in Orlando, too, cheering their sister on. “I have a lot of people rooting for me and my friends talk about it every day,” Juliana said.