If you’re a fan of First Position, you may want to tune in this Friday to “Dance School Diaries” on the DanceOn YouTube channel. The new web-based reality series follows four Southern California students as they prepare for the 2014 Youth America Grand Prix Finals in New York City. Scheduled through mid-October, new episodes air every Friday at 10:00 am PST.
This Friday’s show follows Madison Chappell, now 15, a student at the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, CA. Chappell only recently started training seriously, and admits that playing catch up has been a frequent source of stress. Pointe spoke with Chappell about her experience filming the show, as well as the challenges of being a late-starter.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I was 12, but I didn’t start training seriously until I was 14. I was kind of a tomboy when I was younger, and played sports like soccer and track. But then I started getting bored.
I went to a Thanksgiving party and met a former principal dancer with the Korea National Ballet. She said, “You look like you could be a ballerina. You should try a ballet class.” She was so beautiful that I wanted to be just like her. I started taking classes for fun at a studio that wasn’t very serious. Then three months in, a Vaganova-trained ballet teacher named Michael Houston came in. He emphasized hard work and discipline, which I loved. Eventually, I wanted a more serious atmosphere, so I transferred to the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy last year.
Your teacher, Dmitri Kulev, demands a lot from you on the show.
He creates an amazing atmosphere in class. Everyone in the studio looks up to him and respects him so much. He’s not a mean teacher. He just has high expectations for his students and pushes us to get the best out of every single class.
This was you first experience at YAGP. What was it like?
It was very nerve-racking and exciting—especially with the filming, because everything was heightened. I think many dancers put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to live up to their own expectations. There’s always something you could’ve done better, and I think I let that get to me a little. I’d get too impatient and would want to do everything perfectly right away. And that’s just not the way ballet works. I also felt pressure because I started later, but want a professional career. So it got to a point where I'd think, “I’m not good enough, I’m not ready yet, I’m not experienced enough.”
What was it like having cameras on you all the time? Did that make you more nervous?
The film crew came about three days a week, and then they came a bit more towards the competition. But I think having cameras around helped me be less nervous. Rather than stare at the stage right before going on, I got to talk about my experience and how I was feeling. I didn’t have time to really think and let it get to me.
What was your biggest takeaway from the competition?
It’s an incredible mix of cultures—you get to see other people’s artistry and they get to see yours. You gain exposure you wouldn’t get if you stayed in the same place—you see what the entire world is doing in ballet.
The experience also helped reinforce my favorite saying, which I learned in track: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard enough.” When you want something, you have to go out and get it. Also, I realized that it’s not fair to compare yourself to someone else. Don’t let the position of others daunt you and make you feel like you can’t do something.
To follow Chappell’s story--and learn how she fared at YAGP--tune in to DanceOn on Fridays at 10:00 am PST. Click here to catch up on past episodes.