Aviva Gelfer-Mundl competing at the 2018 Prix de Lausanne. Photo by Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Meet Aviva Gelfer-Mundl, the Only American 2018 Prix de Lausanne Prizewinner

At the beginning of the month, 74 young dancers from around the world gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 46th Prix de Lausanne. At the end of a packed week, eight candidates were named prizewinners, including 16-year-old California-native Aviva Gelfer-Mundl. One of seven Americans to enter the competition, Gelfer-Mundl—who trains both at V&T Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, CA and privately with Alla Khaniashvilli and Nazgul Ryskulova Shinn—was the only one to leave as a prizewinner. Pointe caught up with this nascent star to hear about her former career as a rhythmic gymnast, her time at the Prix and her plans to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia next year.

Before ballet, you were a rhythmic gymnast. Why did you make the switch to ballet?

I started rhythmic gymnastics when I was around six or seven and I competed for several years. I was actually state champion and winner of the Junior Olympics in level 5. However at age 10 I got a really bad hamstring injury, and that caused me to reconsider if I really wanted to continue the sport. I wanted something easier on the body, so I started ballet and immediately fell in love with it.


Do you find that your experience with gymnastics helps with ballet?

Definitely. I learned the essentials in gymnastics, like how to pick movement up quickly and deal with transitions. But in ballet you have to be much more elegant and expressive with the music, where in gymnastics it's more about the tricks.

What were your two variations at the Prix de Lausanne?

One variation was from Paquita. The second was Touch, Feel, Sense by Louise Deleur. They were totally different both in dynamics and artistry. In Paquita I felt I had to be very flirtatious and jumpy, but in Touch, Feel, Sense, like the name suggests, it was really about feeling the music.

What was the highlight of your time at the Prix?

The experience itself was a highlight. Also, working with the choreographers was really incredible because they gave me so many great corrections that I'll forever cherish.

What was the scariest part?

The rake! I fell a few times during the first few days, but as the week progressed it started to get better, and by the end I came to like dancing on it. It helped to adjust to it by keeping my back in place and having a good core.

What was it like to interact with other dancers from around the world?

I made a lot of friendships that I will for sure hold on to. It was really great to be in an environment with so many great dancers at a completely different level than anything I'd ever experienced.


Backstage at the Prix de Lausanne. Photo Courtesy Gelfer-Mundl.

How do you manage your nerves before a competition?

I take three slow deep breaths to calm my heart rate and then I'm ready. Sometimes I also watch meditation videos to relax my brain.

Do you know where the scholarship that you won at the Prix will take you?

Because I'm in eighth place I had to wait for the Prix to accommodate the first seven candidates, but I can now announce that I'll be training at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia next year. I know that I will miss my family and friends back home, but training at the school has been a dream of mine since I started dance. I have never been to Russia and I'm excited to visit the historic landmarks in St. Petersburg.

What's your dream company?

The Mariinsky Ballet.

What's something that you like to do outside of ballet?

I like to cook and spend time my sister and my dog and my whole family, especially my grandparents.

Do you have any advice for dancers entering the competition circuit?

Enjoy every moment of the experience because you ever know if it's going to happen again.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

The History of Pointe Shoes: The Landmark Moments That Made Ballet's Signature Shoe What It Is Today

Pointe shoes, with their ability to elevate a dancer both literally and metaphorically to a superhuman realm, are the ultimate symbol of a ballerina's ethereality and hard work. For students, receiving a first pair of pointe shoes is a rite of passage. The shoes carry an almost mystical allure: They're an endless source of lore and ritual, with tips, tricks and stories passed down over generations.

The history of pointe shoes reveals how a delicately darned slipper introduced in the 1820s has transformed into a technical tool that offers dancers the utmost freedom onstage today.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Coming Back to Ballet After Years Away Has Saved Me During the Pandemic Shutdown

I was 4 years old when I took my first ballet lesson. My mom had dressed me in a pink leotard with matching tights, skirt and slippers. She drove me on a Saturday morning to a ballet academy in downtown Caguas, the town in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I don't remember much from the first lesson, but I do recall the reverence. My teacher Mónica asked the class if someone wanted to volunteer to lead. She was surprised I—the new girl—was the one to raise my hand.

I made up most of the steps, mimicking the ballerinas I had seen on TV and videos. At one point, Mónica stepped in and asked me to lead the class in a bow. I followed her directions and curtseyed in front of the mirror with one leg behind me and a gentle nod. I looked up to find myself in awe of what I had just done.

This was the same feeling I had when, after years away from dance, I finished my first YouTube ballet class at home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks