The Coast News Group
Kennedy Huston, 15, performed a contemporary solo. Photo by Angela McLaughlin

Hundreds compete at regional ballet semifinals

ESCONDIDO — Excitement and tension fills the room — the curtains rise and the music begins, as a dancer enters the stage. For a few moments, everyone is silent, holding their breath as the dancer moves with talent and purpose, given a brief amount of time in which to show the judges what they have to offer.

The 2018 Youth America Grand Prix regional semi-finals took place at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido from Feb. 15 to Feb. 18, where 350 talented ballet dancers, ranging in ages from 9 to 19, were given the opportunity to shine.

According to its website, Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest global network of dance, providing scholarships each year to make continued education possible for many students. A nonprofit organization, Youth America Grand Prix hosts the event annually in locations around the world.

Alexei Moskalenko, the organization’s assistant artistic director, said that 2018 is a record year for them, with 10,000 students competing in 26 cities across the United States — and even more from eight additional countries. Dancers chosen during the semi-finals will have a chance to compete at the finals in New York City in April.

“In New York, we have about 40 judges from all different kinds of schools around the world,” he said. “Our competition is kind of unique, because we don’t fall into the category of other competitions.”

He explained that many dance competitions include forms such as jazz and tap, while Youth America Grand Prix solely focuses on classical and contemporary ballet.

“We target students who may be more serious about becoming professional ballet dancers,” he added. “We are trying to find talents who will go to much bigger schools, such as The Royal Ballet School in London. We are a scholarship-oriented competition.”

Dancers not only competed over the four days, but had an opportunity to participate in workshops and classes, as well.

Emily Hood, 16, has been dancing since she was merely 4 years old, and has participated in several Youth America Grand Prix competitions over the years. Currently a dancer at North County Academy of Dance, she said her favorite style of dance is classical ballet.

She competed in two classical ballet solos and one contemporary ballet solo on Feb. 17.

“I had a lot of fun on stage,” she said. She enjoys competitions such as this one, and hopes to continue dancing after graduation and eventually make it into a company, she said.

“Dance is a big part of my life,” Hood said. “I go to class pretty much every day. Like with anything that people want to pursue or work hard toward, a lot of physical and mental energy goes into it.”

Aside from the competitions, she also participated in classes.

“I always enjoy taking the master classes — the teachers are very renowned, and they have lots of experience and knowledge to give to the dancers,” she said. It is a really great experience.”

As the panel of judges works on their decisions for the dancers here in the San Diego area, Youth America Grand Prix is headed to its next destination in San Francisco. Many anxiously await the news of their competition results, but Hood reminded younger dancers of one thing: to have fun.

“Remember that you’re doing it for the right reason — you’re doing it because you love it,” she said. “Do it for yourself.”