Local dancers to compete in Youth America Grand Prix

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Wearing an ornate glittery purple tutu done tightly up like a corset, Elizabeth McKnight took a shallow breath before walking on stage. With a silver tiara pinned to her head, inches of make-up on her face, this is her last performance practice before the competition.

Spending 560 hours rehearsing on their toes — for an event that will be over in two minutes — does not sound appealing for some people, but for some local dancers at Classical Ballet Academy, this is their life.

Classical Ballet Academy is a Provo-based ballet studio. First the studio focuses on technique class, overall studio performance and lastly, competition. Since 2007, Classical Ballet Academy has been training students ages 9-18 for the Youth America Grand Prix. The Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition, which is held annually and around the world, with finals in New York City.

Jennie Creer-King, founder and director of the academy, has danced professionally with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theatre. She has also won many best of state awards for her choreography. Creer-King said she believes competition helps dancers grow and learn in ways they would not expect.

“I believe the benefit of competitions is setting a technical and artistic goal that is higher than where the dancer is currently at and spending the extra time in private lessons to improve technique and artistry and then being able to perform,” Creer-King said.

Each student spends many hours a week dancing. Students competing in the senior level of the competition are dancing about 20 hours a week. These classes and rehearsals are necessary for technique and strength building.

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Mikaela Cook, 16, is a sophomore in high school and enjoys doing the slower moving dances. She admits sometimes it is hard for her to keep her energy up.

“Finding the endurance to finish it is one of the greatest challenges,” Cook said. “To gain more endurance I run it and practice it every day.”

[pullquote]”As American coaches we are competing with coaches and instructors from all over the world. We don’t coach the same as the Chinese or Russian coaches. I believe we can get the same results but what is acceptable in the way we interact in America with young dancers is not the same as some of the other countries.”[/pullquote]

Elizabeth McKnight, 16, a high school junior, is attending the competition for her second time this year. She said she enjoys the competitions because of the challenges it presents and the friends she can make. She gave some good advice for first-timers.

“If you do bad don’t get mad at yourself,” McKnight said. “Just keep going and say it’s going to be OK and you are going to get there.”

Savanah Lyle, 12, is one of the youngest dancers attending the competition from Classical Ballet Academy and echoed Cook’s remarks.

“I just have to do it,” Lyle said. “And if you mess up just keep going.”

The Youth America Grand Prix presents the world’s greatest dancers and can present many challenges in the way coaching and learning is done.

“As American coaches we are competing with coaches and instructors from all over the world,” Creer-King said. “We don’t coach the same as the Chinese or Russian coaches. I believe we can get the same results but what is acceptable in the way we interact in America with young dancers is not the same as some of the other countries.”

Creer-King said in America they take more of a mentoring approach and the parents are very involved.

“In other countries it is just an honor to work with coaches and teachers — whereas in America the parents are very involved, which can be both a positive and a negative,” Creer-King said.

Classical Ballet Academy will compete in Denver, Feb. 17-19. If the students achieve a cumulative score of 95 or higher on any of their pieces, they will be eligible to compete in April in New York.

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