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The ballet world is full of competition, from the recent Youth America Grand Prix to constant auditioning and jockeying for roles. But the English National Ballet takes it to the next level; for the past eight years the company has held its annual Emerging Dancer competition, a chance for ENB's lower-ranked dancers to compete for the Emerging Dancer Award. The competition has been a good predictor of future ENB stars. Past winners include principals Shioni Kase and Yonah Acosta. This year's Emerging Dancer competition will take place at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre on May 25. The six finalists, nominated and coached by their peers in the company, will each perform a classical pas de deux followed by a more contemporary solo in front of a panel of distinguished judges including their boss, Tamara Rojo.

The 2017 female finalists are Isabelle Brouwers, Rina Kanehara and Madison Keesler, an American dancer previously with San Francisco Ballet. All three have been finalists before, and their deep passion for ballet is clear.

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Ballet Careers
BalletX's Caili Quan found value in her early years of career building. Photo by Alexander Izilaev, Courtesy BalletX.

After two years as a trainee and then one as a second company member at Orlando Ballet, 22-year-old Aurélio Guimarães wasn't able to audition much due to an injury. When The Washington Ballet offered him another traineeship, Guimarães debated what to do. He would ultimately be embarking on a fourth year of doing professional work without a livable salary or title. “It was absolutely a hard decision," Guimarães reflects. “But I also had to consider the work that I would be doing." Knowing his traineeship would entail close work with the artistic director, he essentially took a demotion, with the hope that starting over in Washington would yield a paid contract at the end of the year.

In the past, it was common for a year or two of apprenticeship to lead directly to a corps contract. But today's ballet world involves more no- to low-paying rungs at the bottom of the ladder. Many companies now have three gatekeepers: trainee programs that are often the top level of the school and involve corps work with the company; second companies that work independently as well as more intimately with the main company; and apprenticeships, the most entry-level rank inside the professional hierarchy.

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