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A day for ballet as the Youth America Grand Prix leaps through Utah

Utah Youth America Grand Prix 1, triple ballet dancers, Jan. 16, 2023
Kristine Weller
Ballet dancers backstage at the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center after performing in the competition, Jan. 16, 2023. These dancers performed in the Junior Classical Competition. Their ornate costumes have flat tutus and they wear pointe shoes.

Every year, thousands of aspiring ballet dancers worldwide attend the Youth America Grand Prix scholarship competitions — culminating in the finals held in Tampa, Florida this year.

Dancers ages 9 to 19 perform for judges from top ballet companies and schools. It’s their chance to be scouted and become professional dancers, and an opportunity to perform.

Utah’s semi-final competition was held at the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, in Taylorsville. Throughout the auditions, the lobby bustled with activity. There were dancers clad in warm-up clothing checking in and others wearing classic ballet tutus and pointe shoes. Music could be heard throughout as ballerinas showcased their skills and parents waited for their children to finish performing.

This was Stasha Petkovic’s third time participating in the competition, but she has been dancing since she was 2 years old. One of her favorite things about ballet is performing, especially because it has improved her confidence.

“It’s just really nice to kind of feel like the freedom of being on stage because you can be super shy in public and then just feel like a totally different person on stage,” Petkovic said.

She performed in the Junior Classical Competition and the Junior Contemporary Competition, which are for ages 12 to 14. There is also a category for 15- to 19-year-olds and a pre-competitive category for 9- to 11-year-olds.

Utah Youth America Grand Prix 2, backstage, Jan. 16, 2023
Kristine Weller
Backstage, there is an area for dancers to change into and out of their costumes and to fix their hair or makeup. This young dancer is touching up her lipstick before performing.

Daniela Jovanovic-Hacon also participated in the Junior Classical Competition and the Junior Contemporary Competition. This is her fifth year competing and she has been dancing for nine years. For her, ballet is an artistic outlet.

“It’s taught me how to be more focused,” Jovanovic-Hacon said.

At the end of the competition, Jovanovic-Hacon received third place in the Junior Age Division Classical Ballet Category, and Petkovic was top 24.

Both want to become professional dancers, but that can be hard. One of the only negatives to ballet, Petkovic said, is that so many dancers want to be in big companies, but only a limited number of spots exist. Lexi McCloud, a dancer in Ballet West’s second company, said the grand prix can help with that.

“It opens so many doors for young dancers and especially ones that are in small studios.”

McCloud said it helped her succeed in her own professional career. Dancers can get noticed by schools, directors and companies, especially if they make it to the final round of the competition.

But, the organization isn’t just about being scouted to become a professional dancer, it’s also about providing opportunities to perform.

“When you’re on stage and you’re performing for an audience and you can feel their energy and their emotions, it’s just an out-of-body experience,” McCloud said.

Utah Youth America Grand Prix 3, Lexi McCloud, Jan. 16, 2023
Kristine Weller
Lexi McCloud, a dancer in Ballet West’s second company, helped check dancers in at the competition. She has been dancing since she was 11 years old and competed in the Youth America Grand Prix seven times. She started at Ballet West in August of 2022.

Ballet also has a reputation for not-so-good things, though. Eating disorders and body image issues are sometimes called the dark side of ballet, but that could be changing.

McCloud said this generation is more aware of these issues and addresses them. There are also more options when seeking help since they are less stigmatized overall.

“I’m very vocal about body image issues, about mental health,” said New York City Ballet Dancer and grand prix judge Ashley Bouder. “I’m trying to lead the charge in my company because we’re one of the largest companies in the world.”

Despite these issues, ballet still has a positive impact. For Bouder, ballet is a form of self-expression and it helped competition participants Petkovic and Jovanovic-Hacon gain confidence. It also provides a community and relieves stress.

“It’s just a beautiful art form,” McCloud said.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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