International City School of Ballet student Julie Joyner at a previous Universal Ballet Competition.

Courtesy UBC

UBC Launches First Ever Virtual Competition Experience

In early April, in the midst of the dance world's shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Universal Ballet Competition co-directors Lissette and David Lucas launched a series of virtual workshops and interactive master classes. "It was a way to keep dancers motivated on the weekends, and give them something to look forward to," says Lissette. The success of the workshops, combined with the video judging system that UBC has used since its inception, led the duo to a new idea: a virtual competition.

After weeks of planning, registration is now underway for the UBC Virtual Competition Experience, which will run from June 12–14. The competition is two-fold: Participants will submit videos to be played during the livestream and judged, and they will have the chance to participate in master classes via Zoom, and receive comments and corrections in real time. There are two levels for entry, intermediate and competitive, and soloists, duos and ensembles can compete in either the classical or contemporary category. Cash prizes, one-on-one master classes and gift certificates are available for finalists.


The competition's list of judges and master teachers include Francesca Hayward, Isabella Boylston, Desmond Richardson, Cesar Corrales, Tina LeBlanc, James Whiteside and more. "All of the companies are laid off at this point, so it gave us a chance to work with these stars that are normally too busy with their seasons," says David. "Growing up it would have been my dream to take an interactive class with Baryshnikov, and class with someone like Hayward is the equivalent for dancers today."

To accommodate current restrictions, the competition's rules are flexible: Participants can submit videos performed anywhere, ranging from other competitions they've participated in to an empty studio to their living rooms. "It's okay if it's not a performance with makeup and everything," says Lissette. "It's about the moment a dancer walks onto the stage or the studio, our judges can see the potential behind that."

Richardson stands onstage in front of a group of young female dancers in black leotards and pink tights, demonstrating a step.

Desmond Richardson teaching a master class at the Universal Ballet Competition.

Courtesy UBC

Each submission will be watched by three judges. "Traditionally, the judge will watch the dancer and write down their comments on a piece of paper, but if they say, 'Make sure to point your foot on that jump,' how will dancers know which jump they're referring to?," says David. "With our method, judges record their comments on top of the video."

For the directors, the most exciting part of this virtual experiment is the chance to host a truly international event. Of the 500 spots available, competitors have already registered from France, Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Romania and more. To accommodate dancers in Europe and Asia, the master classes will be offered in two different time zones. "People can see how dancers dance in Europe and Asia and that ballet is one language, and unites us all," says Lissette.

When thinking of advice for participants, Lissette reflects on her own experience as a teenager competing in the Prix de Lausanne. "I never won, but I did walk away with a contract from Mr. [Robert] Joffrey, and that exposure was the biggest win," she says. "I always say it's not about the winning, because what are you going to do after that? It's about everything else: the experience, the classes, the learning and growing and believe in what you have that touches people."

Registration for the UBC Virtual Competition Experience is open until June 5. Click here to register.

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