Gisele Bethea and Michal Wozniak in a coaching session. Jim Lafferty.

The Final Round: Behind the Scenes With USA IBC Gold Medalist Gisele Bethea

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2014 issue of Pointe.

Every four years, dancers from around the globe descend on Jackson, Mississippi, for the USA International Ballet Competition. The only IBC hosted in the U.S. (the others are held in Varna, Bulgaria; Helsinki, Finland; and Moscow), it has served as a major turning point in the early careers of artists such as Nina Ananiashvili, José Manuel Carreño, Johan Kobborg and Sarah Lamb. This June, 99 dancers from 20 countries got their chance to not only compete for medals, but be seen by company and school directors from around the world.


For 15-year-old Gisele Bethea, a student at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, the competition proved to be a critical step in her transition from student to professional. No newcomer to international competitions (she won both the second prize in Moscow and the Grand Prix at Youth America Grand Prix in 2013), she nevertheless felt added pressure to perform. While in the past she competed as a soloist, she entered the USA IBC in the pas de deux category with fellow competitor Michal Wozniak. They often practiced six to seven hours a day with coaches Slawomir and Irena Wozniak (Michal's parents) in the months leading up to it. “It takes a lot of control to have grace between two people," says Bethea, who performed the Act III wedding pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. “It's my next step to becoming a ballerina in training."

Her hard work paid off: Not only did she win the gold medal in the junior division, she received a full scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre and an open invitation to join the ABT Studio Company. “I'm so grateful for all of these opportunities," says Bethea, who plans to defer for a year to finish high school first.

In an exclusive inside look, Pointe followed Bethea through the USA IBC's final round, from her last private rehearsal session to her gold-winning performance.

All photos by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Jim Lafferty

Afternoon competitor class: The dancers take class and rehearse at Belhaven University, where they also live together in the dormitories. "To see other people's work ethics and how they train mentally and physically is so inspiring; it makes you want to work harder," says Bethea. "Even though we're all competing, we all cheer each other on."

Latest Posts


Courtesy ABC

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Alicia Mae Holloway Talks About Her Time on ABC's “The Bachelor”

Bunheads tuning in to the season premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor" on January 4 may have recognized a familiar face: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alicia Mae Holloway, literally bourréeing out of a limousine to greet bachelor Matt James. While Holloway unfortunately didn't get a rose that night, she did thoroughly enjoy being the long-running reality franchise's first professional-ballerina contestant, as she told Pointe in a recent Zoom call.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Carla Fracci and Stephen Jefferies in "La Esmeralda" (1987)

Carla Fracci, a former principal dancer of La Scala Ballet in Milan, is among the rare class of ballerinas who continued to perform into her 50s and beyond. Romantic ballets were her calling card throughout her career. In 1987, when Fracci was 51, she was featured in a television special, dancing reconstructed 19th-century ballets in the style of historical ballerinas. In this clip of La Esmeralda from the program, Fracci and her partner Robert Jefferies, a former principal at The Royal Ballet, deliver an extraordinary performance, capturing the verve and spirit of their characters.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Make the Most of Performance Opportunities in a Pandemic?

My school is connected to a professional company that operates on a show-to-show basis. Students can audition for company performances when they're 15. My 15th birthday is in February, and I think that our directors are choosing people to participate in virtual performances based off of whether they have performed with the company before. This was supposed to be my big first year with the company, but COVID-19 has changed that. How do I make it known that I want to participate? Do you think I should wait until things are more normal? —Lila
Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks