Misa Kuranaga felt completely in control when she performed the Black Swan pas de deux four years ago in the first round of the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. “It was as if there was a bubble around me and nothing could go wrong,” she says. Although the Boston Ballet dancer won a gold medal, discovering that she could perform under pressure made an even greater impact on Kuranaga, who became a soloist the following year and a principal in 2009. “Knowing that I could pull something off in a hard situation like a competition,” she says, “that stayed with me and gave me confidence.”

 

The competition world plays an expanding role in shaping professional opportunities. Bringing home a medal makes a difference, of course, even if like Kuranaga you already dance for a major company. The greatest benefits to competing, however, are often intangible: the connections dancers make to companies and colleagues and the growth they experience as artists. In a tight economy, competitions can yield scholarships and jobs that many can’t afford to pursue piecemeal. And, as Kuranaga discovered, they can give dancers a fresh edge, inspiring directors to take a closer look at someone they may have deemed promising, but were not ready to promote.

 

For many dancers, saving time and money is a motive for competing. A high-profile event like USA IBC is essentially an audition for the host of attending artistic directors and school directors. “Competitions augment the audition process,” says Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet’s artistic director and a New York International Ballet Competition judge. “It’s a great way for directors to shop for talent.”

 

Competitions also offer opportunities to network—in fact, some events now schedule networking right into the program. At the Prix de Lausanne, there’s an afternoon when schools set up booths to talk with potential students. Winners are not the only ones to earn scholarships. “The exposure is terrific,” says Shelly Power, associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy and a 2010 Prix de Lausanne judge.

 

However, competitions do require some investment, not only in entrance fees but also in travel, coaching and costumes. Those costs need to be factored in before a dancer decides to enter, since some schools do not cover them. When you represent a company, however, the company generally pays for all costs. Fees, rules and regulations are clearly laid out on each competition website (see below).

 

Most schools and companies select the dancers who will compete. Anna Reznik, co-artistic director of Chicago’s Joffrey Academy of Dance, had seven students qualify for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, yet only the four whom the school deemed most mature went on to the final round in New York. “We look for students who consider a competition a learning experience,” says Reznik. “If you are just about prizes and medals, it’s a dangerous situation.” Many school directors agree those too focused on winning have problems even when they do well. They return to class with unreasonable expectations or become overanxious about the quality of their dancing if they don’t receive an award.

 

While dancers can still enter and compete if their schools do not select them, they may not be able to use their school affiliation. There can be advantages to going anyway. Dancers as successful as San Francisco Ballet principal Maria Kochetkova have taken on the competition world solo and come back with contacts, and in some cases, jobs. However, it does mean you have chosen to ignore the school’s judgment on your readiness.

 

Only a handful of dancers walk away with medals. But losing often means far less than dancers fear. “I got offered my contract with Colorado Ballet right after I was eliminated,” says Andrew Skeels, who competed in USA IBC in 2006. “For me, it was like winning a gold medal.”

 

For some, the stress of competing outweighs any potential benefit. But if you have resilience, breaking yourself into the ongoing competitiveness of professional ballet might be another benefit. “The competition doesn’t stop when you are in a company,” says Welch. “You will still be auditioning for visiting choreographers; it’s just part of company life.”

 

If you decide to compete, remember that most dancers make their share of bloopers. Bruce Marks, chairman of the jury at the USA IBC, has seen even the greatest fail. “It’s not about being perfect,” he says. “Gelsey Kirkland fell down; if you are not falling, you are not trying anything. Bravery counts, but in the end, the process is the prize.”

 

 

Mistakes to Avoid:

A less-than-professional DVD. Most competitions require a DVD with entrance applications. While some competitors may be tempted to include more than what the application specifies—say, clips of all of their best perfor­mances—it will not increase their chances. “Make sure you read the requirement closely, and submit not more, not less, than what’s asked for,” advises Houston Ballet’s Shelly Power. “This is not the time to be creative.”

 

An overly-ambitious variation. Except for NYIBC, where students spend two weeks learning their variations on site, most competitions ask that you arrive with a classical and a contemporary variation already polished. Many students make the mistake of picking something that they always wanted to learn, even if it’s beyond their reach. “Pick a variation that suits you,” says Larissa Saveliev, co-founder of YAGP. “Often, that’s not the same as the one you like.”

 

Acting unprofessionally at the competition. Keep in mind that a competition can have the same impact on your future as an audition—people are watching you. Try to control your nerves and treat fellow competitors like colleagues. “There are other people around you backstage and in class,”says Saveliev. “Learn to share the space. That’s what will happen when you are in a company.” —NW

 

 

Tomorrow's Talent

A competition doesn’t need the word “ballet” in its title to make a difference in your career. New York City Dance Alliance has long been a favorite with ballet dancers. Although NYCDA showcases versatile dancers, the competition, founded by Joe Lanteri, puts ballet front and center.

 

NYCDA has judges and faculty with deep ballet resumés. People like Duncan Cooper (San Francisco Ballet), Scott Jovovitch (Joffrey Ballet) and Daniel Catanach (Armitage Ballet) teach at NYCDA?alongside top jazz, tap and modern instructors. The ballet world pays attention to those who win the top ballet award. A number of the competitors have gone on to work at leading companies, including Boston Ballet’s Whitney Jensen and Melissa Hough, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Jon Bond and New York City Ballet’s Brittany Pollack.

 

Lanteri, a stickler for classical training, finds focusing on ballet benefits all of his competitors. Building and keeping a strong classical foundation helps dancers in other genres, and Lanteri likes to send the message that they are not going to get too far without ballet training. “We are so proud of the impact our NYCDA dancers have had in the professional ballet world,” he says. “It’s exciting to see these young dancers, who have valued technique throughout their convention years, transition into major companies. It really validates the emphasis we’ve put on bringing teachers from the professional world of ballet.” —NW

 

 

For Competition Details:

The American Dance Competition
www.theamericandancecompetition.com

Beijing International Ballet Invitational
www.bda.edu.cn

Genée International Ballet Competition
www.rad.org.uk

New York City Dance Alliance
www.nycdance.com

New York International Ballet Competition
www.nyibc.org
Premio Roma
www.concorsointernazionaledanza.it

Prix de Lausanne
www.prixdelausanne.org

tanzolymp
www.tanzolymp.com

USA International Ballet Competition
www.usaibc.com

World Ballet
Competition
www.wbcorlando.com

Youth America Grand Prix
www.yagp.org






























 

 

Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston, TX.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

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As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


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Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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