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Youth America Grand Prix Brings Ballerinas to Irving

Irving — Young ballerinas came to shine at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) ballet competition, hosted at the Irving Arts Center Friday, Jan. 31, through Sunday, Feb. 2.

The largest competition in the world for ballet students nine years old through nineteen, YAGP drew more than 400 students from across the country to perform for representatives from the finest ballet schools in the world. Dallas hosts the semi-finals of the Grand Prix with the winners moving on to the finals in New York in April.

Alexei Moskalenko, assistant artistic director and one of the judges for the YAGP, called the event the “Olympic Games of the ballet world.”

“We have about 40 judges come in from all these big institutional schools, and they offer scholarships,” Moskalenko said. “For example, a child from the middle of Texas can go to finals to New York and get a scholarship to Royal Ballet School in London, or a school in Paris, or some other big institutional schools. It’s also a big networking thing, kids can make friends with others around the world. So, the girls become friends with Brazilian students, students from Japan and from other countries.”

Kelly Lamin is the owner of the Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville and artistic director of the Lake City Ballet Theater. She said the Grand Prix offers all of her students an amazing chance to train and perform for the best.

“We have students who are young and need opportunities to get better and perform,” Lamin said. “Sometimes when you’re just in class or you’re doing it at home, they still work hard, but there’s nothing like working hard when you know these prestigious judges are going to be watching your technique and your artistry. It just makes them rise a little bit higher in their expectations of themselves, and we come because they work so much harder and it just it’s incredible to see how much they improve.”

Lamin has been sending her students to the Grand Prix since 2001. Today, she is grateful to have the competition a little closer to home.

“A lot of people come from all over. They have to travel, and they have to pay expenses,” Lamin said. “We’re just in Lewisville. It’s really a great for us that they come here, because in the old days we used to have to travel also. When they started doing it in Texas, I was very grateful that I could bring more students.”

Moskalenko said it’s important to note that the judges are not necessarily looking at the students’ current talent level, but rather their potential for growth. The Grand Prix is not so much a competition as is it an opportunity to match these students with the best schools for them.

“It’s an opportunity to be seen by professionals around the field. We are not a competition where kids are judged by how they dance today,” Moskalenko said. “When the judges make their choice, they keep in mind what that child would be like after five years, for example. We are kind of like matchmakers, we find the right school and the right training for the right child. It’s not necessarily true that a bigger school is better for them. We have a lot of private schools, so for some kids, private school where the teachers take care of them like a family would be better.”

Lamin said that even if not every student walks away with scholarships, all of them walk away with valuable experience and newfound confidence in their skills.

“For the average student, it’s really an opportunity to grow and improve and their technique,” Lamin said. “A lot of the dancers that do solos here in Youth America Grand Prix end up being our soloists in our shows and all of the performances we do at home, because they build confidence. They can do much more difficult work, because that’s what’s expected of the classical variations. In classical variation, it’s not like you choreograph to their skill. They have to do what’s already been choreographed hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They have to rise to that and so it makes them so much better.”