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Jolie Rose Lombardo performing at ADC | IBC prior to her diagnosis. Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy Stephanie Lombardo

It was mid-January when 15-year-old Jolie Rose Lombardo first noticed the leg pain. A scholarship student at the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany, the Florida native felt fine dancing through full days of classes and completing her regular school schedule. It was only at night that what appeared to be sciatic pain would shoot down her right leg when she tried to lie down, making resting difficult. After a few sleepless nights, spent mostly standing up, she went to the doctor for an X-ray, followed by an MRI.

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Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, over 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

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Larissa Savliev teaches class at YAGP. Courtesy YAGP.

It's hard to imagine the ballet landscape today without Youth America Grand Prix. The annual competition attracts thousands of young dancers from all over the world, many hoping to win a scholarship to a major ballet school. This year, which marks the organization's 20th anniversary, roughly 12,000 students participated in YAGP's semi-finals in 32 cities here and abroad, and over 1,000 are in New York City this week for the final round. The stage at last night's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala was packed during the student defilé (kudos to them for not knocking each other over!), while top alumni—including Kimin Kim, Isabella Boylston, and Hee Seo—made triumphant returns.

In recent years, other scholarship competitions have popped up around the country. But before YAGP was founded 20 years ago, it was a much different story. For bunheads, "competition" was almost a dirty word, one associated with back flips, hulking trophies and flashy jazz studios. And that's exactly where YAGP co-founder Larissa Saveliev found herself in the late '90s. She and her husband, YAGP co-founder Gennadi Saveliev, had defected from Russia a few years earlier, and the former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and new mom was teaching ballet at a studio in New Jersey. On weekends, she would travel with the school to jazz competitions, an experience she found deflating.

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Hamrick rehearsing Port Rouge in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy Hamrick

Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.

So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth American Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.

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Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn at age 12 in a variation from Flames of Paris at the 2008 YAGP finals. Courtesy YAGP.

The Youth America Grand Prix New York Finals are starting up again this week, running April 12-19. This year, YAGP is celebrating its 20th anniversary. April 18-19 marks the competition's annual Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala, featuring 13 pros who are also YAGP alumni. We've rounded up photos and videos from those stars' YAGP years and shared them with you here.

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Gabriel Figueredo via Instagram @biel_figueredo

Youth America Grand Prix, the world's largest student ballet competition, is coming up on the end of its 20th-anniversary season. As aspiring pre-professionals gear up for this year's New York Finals, we're taking a look at a handful of YAGP participants who are already generating major buzz.

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Ballet Training
ABT Studio Company artistic director Sascha Radetsky in YAGP's "Ask the Experts" series, screenshot via YouTube.

If your goal is to become a professional dancer, you likely have a lot of questions about what you need to do to get there. Last year, Youth America Grand Prix created a Facebook video series called "Ask the Expert," featuring conversations with dance professionals on topics ranging from nutrition to dancing in college to career building. (Good news: They are now available on YAGP's website and YouTube page).

This season, YAGP is expanding the series to include more interviews. The latest video features American Ballet Theatre Studio Company artistic director Sascha Radetsky. The topic? Navigating your first year of professional life, from a director's perspective. Radetsky answers questions about professional etiquette and protocol, navigating company hierarchy and managing conflicts, and offers his tips for a successful career and what qualities stand out to him in dancers.

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Ballet Careers
Remie Goins, a student at International City School of Ballet in Atlanta, performs at the YAGP finals. Photo by VAM, Courtesy YAGP.

You've watched First Position, the 2011 documentary about dancers at Youth America Grand Prix. You've studied videos of past ballet competition winners online. Now, you're interested in joining those elite ranks by entering a competition yourself. But what if your school doesn't have a program set up to guide you through the process? Pointe asked four experts to break down what ballet competition newbies need to know.

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Miko Fogarty. Photo by Andrew Ross, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Where in the world is Miko Fogarty? Just three years ago, she seemed unstoppable. After being featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position, she became a teenage social-media star, winning top prizes at competitions in Moscow and Varna and at Youth American Grand Prix, and dancing in galas around the world. Last most of us heard, it was 2015 and she had just joined the corps of Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she dropped off the ballet radar.

Turns out Fogarty, now 21, was taking time off to reevaluate her life, including the role she wanted ballet to play in it. She is now starting her junior year as a biology major at University of California—Berkeley and is considering going to medical school. (Her brother and fellow First Position subject, 19-year-old Jules, is a junior in the Berkeley economics department.) On the side she teaches private ballet lessons and gives master classes, and is the part-time conservatory director at San Jose Dance International, a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area led by artistic director Yu Xin. We caught up with her by phone.


Last we heard, you were at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Where have you been over the last couple of years?

I've been kind of quiet on social media about what I'm up to. I hope in the future to be more open with my followers on my daily life. I'm kind of in the process. Right now I'm a premed student at Cal and I'm researching science, which is completely different from what I was doing a couple of years ago. I'm also teaching a lot. I love teaching ballet; it's definitely one of my passions.

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A successful career takes more than great technique. Photo by Getty Images.

Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.

"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough moti­vation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."

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Varna IBC competitor Antonio Gameiro Casalinho. Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, Courtesy Varna IBC.

Every two years, dancers from all over the world head to the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna to try their luck at the Varna International Ballet competition. Established in 1964, the competition famously takes place at a leafy outdoor theater near the Black Sea, and its roster of past winners (Sylvie Guillem, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova) reads like a who's who of dance history.

This year's IBC, which took place July 15–30, brought together 120 dancers from 34 countries. After the third and final round, the winners were announced over the weekend. Yuan Zhe Zi (Jessica) Xuan, a grand sujet at Dutch National Ballet, won first place in the senior women's category. Sinuo Chang of China took first in the senior men's, while his partner, Siyi Li, placed first in the junior women's category. A few familiar faces from the competition circuit also made the list. Antonio Casolinho, a student at the Academy of Ballet and Dance in Portugal and this year's Junior Grand Prix winner at Youth America Grand Prix, took home the Special Distinction Award, Varna's top prize for juniors. Katherine Barkman, a principal guest artist with Ballet Manila, placed second in the senior women's category, fresh off her silver medal win at June's USA IBC in Jackson.

Read on to see the full list of prizewinners, then head to Varna IBC's Facebook page to catch videos of the competition. Congratulations to all!

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Ballet Training
Photo via World Ballet Competition live stream.

Though the World Ballet Competition based in Orlando, FL, is already under way, it's not too late for for you to start watching from the comfort of your own couch. A live stream of the competition is available through Saturday, June 16, on both the competition's website and Facebook page. Missed the first two days of the competition? You can watch them in full here.

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