JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Danielle Pagano at her mother’s salon in Southold, working on the mannequin head she’s had since she was a child.
When the judges of a recent cosmetology competition in Farmingdale announced the third-place winner, Riverhead BOCES student Danielle Pagano became slightly disappointed.
That feeling became more unpleasant after they called the second-place winner. She believed all hope of going home with an award to honor the evening hairstyle she completed on her long, dark-haired mannequin was lost.
“I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I didn’t make it,’ ” Danielle recalled during an interview last week. “After that, they called my name.”
Danielle, a Southold High School junior who has studied cosmetology at the H.B. Ward Career and Technical Center of Eastern Suffolk BOCES for the past year, won first place in the March 1 Skills USA competition at SUNY/Farmingdale.
When her teacher, Vinnie Catenacci, asked her to compete after a fellow classmate dropped out about two weeks prior to the contest, Danielle agreed because she believed it would be a good experience.
“I’ve always wanted to be a cosmetologist,” she said. “It’s my dream. I like making people feel beautiful.”
Danielle described her first competition, in which she and about a dozen regional students were given one hour to complete their evening hairdos, as “nerve-wracking.” Typically created through the use of curling irons, bobby pins and hairspray, these types of hairstyles are usually meant for special occasions, such as weddings or proms.
The beginning was troublesome, Danielle later recalled, because she had difficulty creating a perfectly smooth ponytail. But once she got it taut enough, Danielle said she finished the updo with about eight minutes to spare.
Her mother, Theresa, a veteran cosmetologist who has owned Village Hair Studio in Southold for the past six years, helped her practice for the competition. Danielle said she picked one of the sleekest updo styles because she liked its smoothness, as if it was chiseled out of stone, and believes she won because of her mother’s guidance.
“She showed me how to place the curls,” Danielle said. “It had a clean look — no loose tendrils. I liked the bunch of swirls and braided curls.”
Ms. Pagano said she was excited when her daughter took home the top prize and later laminated the letter the school sent home congratulating her daughter.
“I want her to keep it forever,” Ms. Pagano said. “Danielle has goals. Danielle is going to fulfill those goals.”
After she completes 1,000 classroom hours during her senior year, Danielle will take the state board written and practical exams in order to obtain a cosmetology license from the state. Although she plans to start her professional career behind the chair at her mother’s salon, Danielle said she believes her destiny is offshore and wants to work as a cosmetologist aboard cruise ships.
“I’ve always enjoyed spending time with my family on cruises or on our boat,” she said. “I love being on the water.”
As she continues with her studies, Danielle said she’d like to participate in future competitions because she believes it has helped her build confidence.
“My mom gave me a big hug and everyone was smiling at me,” she said about winning. “I’ll remember it forever.”