Three years ago at the age of 17, Linnea Swarting decided she was ready to raise her game. Instead of graduating from New Canaan High School with her childhood friends, she wanted to push forward with her aspiration of being a professional ballerina.

Swarting, who began dancing at the age of 3, said she reached a milestone in her junior year by dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the New England Academy of Dance’s production of the Nutcracker.

“Somewhere around 10th grade is when I really decided to pursue a career in ballet,” Swarting said. “I was just very passionate about it.”

Swarting ended up spending that last year of high school at the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts studying dance performance before spending a year at the Boston Ballet School, then more school followed by stints of varying length at the Nashville and Washington ballets in preparation for a big break.

This summer, after completing a five-week summer intensive at the Nashville Ballet, Swarting reached her highest level yet by being selected as part of the company’s second company — a full-fledged professional dancer.

“It’s definitely a step forward,” Swarting said. “Before I was considered still in training, but now as a member of the second company, I am going to be dancing with the company and performing.”

As a member of the second company of the Nashville Ballet, Swarting is rehearsing the company’s repertoire, which includes “Peter Pan” in September, “Dracula” in October and the “Nutcracker” around the holidays.

Since the end of her junior year of high school, Swarting has been dancing 8 to 10 hours daily, a clip that has limited the pace she can take academic courses at the Harvard Extension School. Additional hours are committed to cross-training and sometimes outside instruction on the finer points of technique.

“It’s just like an athlete in that you have to eat well and exercise in addition to practice, which is very physically demanding,” Swarting said. “You just are constantly focused on taking good care of your body and trying hard not to get injured, but also pushing yourself to the limit.”

Susan Swarting, Linnea’s mother, said her daughter became more committed to dancing in late middle school and started attending summer intensives, several week-long classes offered at ballet companies around the country for more serious-minded dance students.

“She gained a lot of experience and love for the art and was among people who shared the same desire,” Susan Swarting said. “I talked her into one more year at home for her junior year, but when she was a senior, I could hardly say anything more about it because she really wanted to be around that.”

Frances Ortiz, one of Linnea Swarting’s dance instructors at the New England Academy of Dance in New Canaan, said Swarting’s achievement is impressive and that professional jobs in ballet are very hard to win.

In the 35 years or so the New England Academy of Dance has been operating, only about 15 students have become professional dancers.

“About 3 percent of the dancers who study become professionals and hit the level she has hit,” said Ortiz, who runs the academy with her husband, Ted.

While Swarting showed more drive to succeed than many dancers, it was during her high school years that she began to blossom, Ortiz said.

By her junior year, after more than a decade of taking classes, Swarting was chosen for the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in the academy’s presentation of the “Nutcracker,” a role usually reserved for older, more seasoned dancers, Ortiz said.

“She was the youngest dancer to reach the highest level in our studio and for her to play that role requires a huge amount of strength, flexibility and control to do that,” Ortiz said. “I’m very proud to hear of her accomplishments. In the second company, they are really kind of testing her at this moment to see if she has what it takes. But she is in a good spot.”

Swarting said she hopes to work her way up to the first company of the Nashville Ballet, and is committed to maintaining the discipline to have a long dance career.

“I just want to dance as long as I possibly can though your body can’t hold up forever,” Swarting said. “I just want to have a good successful career here.”