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ToCompete orNot... ALookatYouthAmericaGrandPrix byKellyKilburn Lannin T

he professionalworld of dancemust continue to be fed by today’s youth and the training of these young dancers, as well as their safety, remain important factors to consider if

the future of dance is to flourish. It seems today that the trend of our decade has focused on dance competitions as a popular route to successful careers in dance.

One of themost successful and respected dance competitions is the YouthAmericaGrand Prix founded in 1999 by formerBolshoi dancers, Larissa andGennadi Savelievwhomoved to theU.S. in 1995whenGennadi accepted a soloist positionwithAmerican Ballet Theatre. Larissa,who is being honored this yearwith a presti- giousDanceMagazineAward, noticed a lack of opportunity for bal- let students andwanted to create a network thatwould provide educational and professional opportunities and connect talented studentswith prestigious schools and companies.And that she did. In its relatively short existence, YAGP has awarded over $2,000,000 in scholarshipmoney and boasts an alumni list that is quite impres- sive.

Aswith anything, growth has its problems. Is the focus on competi- tion changing thewaywe train our students andwhat is it doing to the artistic value of dance? In 2012, amovie about YAGPwasmade called First Position. Themovie focused on an exciting inside look of YAGP and followed several young dancers on their journey to becoming “stars.” Themoviewent viral and the interest and partici- pation in YAGP literally tripled in size andmore regional competi- tionswere added not only in theU.S. but internationallymaking an invitation to theNewYork Finals out of reach for nearly all of those competing at the regional and qualifying level.

In an effort to succeed,many dancers are puttingmore energy into the actual competition dances than the consistent training that has always been at the forefront of a serious school.RoyKaiser, artistic director of PennsylvaniaBallet comments, “I sawdancers atVarna who turned out beautiful performances night after night and yet struggled in a ballet class to put two or three steps together….Don’t skip class to practice your variations.”

In addition, not only serious ballet students use the YAGP opportu- nity as a stepping stone to a professional career, dancers of every level and style of dance are jumping on the bandwagon. It is obvi- ous at the regional level that classically trained dancers are no longer the average contestant.

Wendy Perron, former editor in chief forDanceMagazine and a judge for YAGP, notices “… annoying trend in the ‘contemporary’ cat- egory. The ballet category is pretty stable…but in contemporary, the style is all over themap. Some enterwith a classical ballet variation, others bring an earthymodern dance piece, and still others perform a character number kind of like a skit.But then there are thosewho treat ‘contemporary’ as a catchall category and throwin everything they have ever learned. This often includes extreme ballet, like hold- ing the leg up close to the earwhile you turn, or arching back into a walkover or a no-hands cartwheel. Some push the gumby-ness so far thatwhat they do could be called contortions.”

DANCE!NORTHTEXAS a publication of the dance council of north texas

LaineHabony at age 13 nowwithNewYork CityBallet and Steven Loch at age 12 nowwith PacificNorthwestBallet.Both are former students ofKelly Lannin atBallet Conservatory. Photo:NancyWest Loch

Young dancers and teachers are choreographingmore andmore “tricks” and focusing less on artistic value. The jury is out onwhat impresses the judges. Some teacherswill argue that they have read critiques fromjudges that the choreography needsmore “flash” and difficulty level,while YAGP says that development of artistry in a dancer remains their priority. Larissa states, “they (YAGP) are try- ing to educate parents onwhat artistry is in dance—and it’sNOT super flexiblewalkovers.Naturally the parents don’t see dance the way the judges do.As a judge, I can say thatwe hold the artistry of dance dear.”

Dr. Linda James and fellowdance facultymembers atBooker T. WashingtonHigh School for the Performing andVisualArts,work at refining the aesthetic awareness of their students. James and col- league Lisa Stoller teach Portfolio classes atBTWHSPVAthat pre- pare juniors for acceptance into college dance programs and profes- sional careers.Arequirement of the classes is to prepare solos for auditions.Many students initially present solos that they have pur- chased and performed at competitions. TheBTWHSPVAdance fac- ulty advises the students to take out the hyperextensions and gym- nastic tricks. Instead, students are asked to focus on technique and the expressiveness of their dancing.

James expressed concern about the increasing number of injuries she is seeing, particularly in the school’s youngest students. She attributes these injuries to the popularity of hyperextensions, exces- sive training and lack of rest.NumerousBTWHSPVAdancers train half a day at the school and then drive to their home studios to take evening andweekend classes.Many participate in competitions on

vol. 19 • no. 2 May-July 2016

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