Styles Dykes competing at YAGP Finals. Photo by Star Action Shots, Courtesy YAGP

What It Feels Like to Be at a Major Competition Again

When asked to describe the energy at this month's Youth America Grand Prix Finals, judge Sascha Radetsky had one word: "Stratospheric."

More than 800 dancers from around the United States—selected from 10,000 who'd taken part in regional events—competed onstage at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida, for the competition's season Finals from May 9 to 16. And after months of cramped kitchen-counter barres and delayed Zoom connections, for many serious ballet students, the opportunity to perform onstage had never felt quite so sweet.


"Probably one of the best parts was bowing at the end," says 16-year-old Brady Farrar, who trains at multiple studios in Miami. "I just took a moment to look up at the audience, and listen to them clapping and cheering. Every two seats or so were empty, but they more than made up for it."

Of course, the competition wasn't exactly business as usual. If dancers wanted to perform unmasked, they were required to get tested and/or show their vaccination card. Everyone—including the socially distanced judges and audience members—had their faces covered at all other times. The different age divisions were also staggered throughout the week so there were fewer people in the theater at any given time.

"A huge part of competing is networking, and it's harder to recognize new faces in masks," says Clara Thiele, 16, from the Draper Center for Dance Education. "And, of course, facial expression is a major part of dancing." Although she used her vaccination card to perform mask-less, all the dancers kept their masks on during the scholarship class, which is where she'd been hoping to receive an offer. "I'm graduating high school early and hoping to go away to a ballet school," she says. "My dream would be the John Cranko School or Royal Ballet School."

Clara Thiele soars through the air in a grand jet\u00e9 above the stage, mouth wide open, hands flexed above her head.

Clara Thiele competing at YAGP Finals

Star Action Shots, Courtesy YAGP

Still, she says, mask or no mask, most dancers were thrilled simply to be able to be in the same room together. "Being in a class with 50 boys my age, having fun by trying to one-up each other in class, I haven't gotten that in a while," says Farrar. "It was awesome."

"Last year, we didn't get to dance onstage. We didn't get to be inspired by other competitors," adds 20-year-old Styles Dykes, who trains with Jessica Odasz and Andrea Astuto in Rochester, New York. "We've learned not to take these moments for granted."

For Dykes, who graduated high school in the middle of the pandemic, competing at Finals was also an essential career opportunity. "This could possibly be one of the last times I'm seen by multiple companies at once," he said a couple days before taking the stage. "Since I don't have the means to do a lot of traveling to go on audition tours, this could be a very defining moment in my career and I need to make sure that it counts."

The results will be announced in a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, May 26, at 7 pm Eastern on the YAGP YouTube channel. Though they're usually given at the end of Finals week, this year, the competition allowed extra time for remote judges to review performances virtually, and for international schools to finalize additional scholarship offers.

Radetsky, artistic director of the ABT Studio Company, says that there was steep competition this year for the top spots. "The dancers just left their hearts onstage," he says. "It felt like everyone had a new sense of gratitude and sense of urgency. The junior boys especially, a good dozen of them blew our socks off. They were definitely better than I was at that age, probably better than I was ever."

Latest Posts


Margo Moritz, Courtesy Alonzo King LINES Ballet

How Adult Students Can Prep for a Safe Return to the Studio

After a year (or more) of virtual classes, it's finally time to unplug and head back to the studio.

Exciting? Absolutely. A little scary? Definitely.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Boston Ballet soloist Chisako Oga. Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Join Us for an Exclusive Conversation With Boston Ballet's Chisako Oga on June 29!

Chisako Oga has already experienced so much in her short career. In one year, she went from being a San Francisco Ballet apprentice to a principal dancer at Cincinnati Ballet. Now, she's spreading her wings at Boston Ballet, where she's currently a soloist. In our May/June digital cover story, Oga talks about handling high-stakes pressure, from international ballet competitions to leading roles, as well as career disappointments. Through it all, she's managed to stay laser-focused on her goals while maintaining a healthy attitude and work–life balance. "The pandemic put things in perspective," she says. "Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life."

Now you can have a chance to hear more about Oga's training and career path, ask for her advice, and much more in our exclusive virtual conversation. Click here to register for free with your questions. Then join us for a Zoom Q&A with Oga on Tuesday, June 29, at 4 pm EDT!

Gavin Larsen in Balanchine's Duo Concertant at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Blaine Covert, Courtesy University Press of Florida

"Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life" Gives a Vivid Portrayal of the Working Dancer

Before reading her excellent memoir, Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life (University Press of Florida, $26.95), I'd never heard of Gavin Larsen. She isn't a famous superstar ballerina with a first-tier company promising revelations of juicy celebrity gossip and salacious liaisons. She has no rags-to-riches history, no heartbreaking backstory of overcoming great odds. She was, in fact, a hard-working, successful, very skilled professional ballerina for 18 years, retiring in 2010 as principal of Oregon Ballet Theatre, with previous stints including Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Alberta Ballet.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks