Every year, more than 5,000 dancers from across the globe audition to take part in the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition.
The Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) is an international student ballet and contemporary dance competition that awards over $250,000 annually in scholarships to leading dance schools worldwide. To date, the YAGP has awarded $2 million, with more than 250,000 dancers participating in workshops, competitions and audition classes. There are more than 200 YAGP alumni dancing with 50 companies around the world. These companies include:
- American Ballet Theatre
- New York City Ballet
- Paris Opera Ballet
- San Francisco Ballet
- and many, many more!
In February, the BalletMet Dance Academy sent seven dancers to the semi-final rounds of competition in Indianapolis, Indiana. From there, Colby Treat, Stephanie Hearne and Bridget Kuhns advanced to the Final Round, which took place March 17-22, in New York City. Colby was offered a trainee position at the Grand Rapids Ballet Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bridget was awarded a full-year scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre. Stephanie, unfortunately, couldn’t compete in the scholarship portion of the competition, due to an injury.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Susan Dromisky, BalletMet senior faculty member, a couple weeks ago to gain a better perspective of the YAGP. Susan accompanied the girls to New York and was able to help me understand a little more about the competition itself and dance as an art form. It was nice to gain an insider’s perspective into this world renowned competition.
I mentioned to Susan that while I was researching the YAGP to write a press release, I came across a dance review in The New York Times written by Roslyn Sulcas.
In the article, Sulcas mentioned how Brian D’arcy James, the host of the closing night Gala, stated that the YAGP had “revolutionized the world of dance.” Sulcas felt that statement might be an exaggeration and said that what the competition (the YAGP) had done was emphasize and spread the idea that ballet is an American Idol kind of spectator sport. Here’s what Susan had to say:
“I absolutely concur with that statement. I call myself a ballet snob and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, I really don’t. I just … I want it to be art. I don’t want it to be only about the circus act. I felt that, when watching the performances from the audience, they were many students that I loved and when these students performed, the audience was quiet. There was no response. Then when the flashy, what I would consider more American Idol-ish performances happened, the audience would go ballistic. In my mind, and unfortunately, this should be a somewhat educated audience. What they wanted was the flash and the bling. That’s pretty much it.”
Susan explained to me that the bling, for her, could be found in the finesse, the artistry, the detail and the control of the performances.
More than once, in talking to Susan, as well as the girls who advanced, I was reminded that dance is an absolutely subjective art form. When she told me that she felt the most important part of the entire competition was the process, I saw where she was coming from and couldn’t agree more.
As a dancer, maybe you advanced to the final rounds of a competition with an unusually high score from the current set of judges. What if the judges had been different? What if that day, one judge had called in sick? Judges may have the power to make or break a dancer in a competition, but they can’t take away the hours spent rehearsing and working towards growing as a dancer.
With all variables set aside, from the heart of a performance and beyond simple movements, you see a dancer’s drive and passion.
So, because of the subjectivity and variables, should dance as an art form be judged? It’s hard to say. The producers of Dancing with the Stars and America’s Next Best Dance Crew would probably say yes.
But what do you think?