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Youth America Grand Prix Dancers Compete for Opportunities [PHOTOS]

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Irving—The Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) was held at the Irving Convention Arts Center Jan. 27-30.

YAGP is the world’s largest global dance competition. It fulfills its mission of dance education through scholarship auditions, master classes, alumni services, and outreach activities.

“A lot of people refer to us as sort of like the ‘American Idol’ of ballet,” YAGP representative Eve Hodgkinson said. “We go from city to city, over 20 cities in America and about 10 cities internationally as well, and we hold open auditions anyone can come to. They can tryout to make our finals and be seen by company directors, school directors, and they can win scholarships to schools and job offers to companies. It’s really the start of their careers as professional dancers.”

Over 300 dancers from across the country between the ages of 9 to 19 competed in this year’s competition. Andrew Shields, a 16-year-old dancer from the Ballet Center of Fort Worth, took 1st place in the Senior Division.

“[Andrew] is one of the youngest seniors,” Enrica Tseng, artistic director of the Ballet Center of Fort Worth, said. “He is only 16, and he performed really well. We’re very proud of him. We worked very hard with him, and he has done a great job.

“With that first place win, he is qualified for the finals taking place this year in Tampa, Florida. When they go to the finals, they are exposed to many international scholarships to continue their training in very prestigious schools.

“He was already approached here. They questioned him and presented to him some possibilities that I think he has evaluated. We are also evaluating to help him to understand the part of his future, to make sure he will finish a very good training, and be in a good place where he can jump into a professional career, because that’s what he wants and that’s what we want for him.”

“For most of these kids, this is a life changing opportunity,” Hodgkinson said. “They wouldn’t have the opportunity to be seen by judges or company directors from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera, all these places. Each city we have a different set of judges, and then also at our finals in Tampa, we fly in judges and school directors from all over the world. Many of these kids will go to our finals in Tampa and be seen by even more [judges] than they were seeing in Irving.”

Tseng said events like the YAGP are vital for connecting her students with instructors from schools and companies from not just in the states, but around the world.

“If you want to audition for big, prestigious schools in Europe, you would either have to go there or pass a lot of auditions,” Tseng said. “[The process] is never the same, like sending a video versus a performance in person. It’s very different when you actually see the person live.

“At the finals, they will have teachers who represent the schools and see the students in person and see what they can do. It’s important to see also what they can do in class, not only the solo that they prepare for. It’s important for a teacher to see how they respond to class.”

Hodgkinson added it is not just the winners who benefit, but everyone who participates in YAGP gets something out of the experience.

“Even those kids who don’t make the finals in Tampa still have the opportunity to add scholarships and job offers, because they’re being seen by so many,” Hodgkinson said. “It’s not who places the best or anything specific like that. Every company is looking for something different to complete their group. Really, every kid has the opportunity to go and be something through this organization.”

You can view photos from the event below:

Photos by John Starkey