“The best thing for a young ballet student to do is search for your own excellence and never stop searching. Don’t let the word ‘perfect’ come into your vocabulary. Leave ‘perfect’ way behind”. — Jenifer Ringer Fayette, Director of Colburn Dance Academy and Master Teacher at 2017 Young Dancers Competition
For 35 years, the Young Dancers Competition (YDC) has been one of the highlights of the year for aspiring ballet students in Colorado. This year was every bit as special for the 248 dancers, ages 10-18, who worked with Master Teacher Jenifer Ringer Fayette and competed for performance awards during the three day event in early March.
Jenifer Ringer has had one of the most successful and celebrated dance careers of her generation. A former principal ballerina with the New York City Ballet and Director of the Colburn Dance Academy in Los Angeles, Ringer began dancing professionally at age 16 and danced with NYCB for 24 years. She was an inspiration for students at the YDC. “I have enjoyed being here in Colorado and seeing the students and their dedication,” said Ringer at the end of the Competition. “It’s a great group of kids, and they come here to learn and try to do their best.” Ringer’s corrections in class were right on point. With the youngest students, she focused on mechanics and injury prevention, explaining to a room full of 10 and 11 year olds why they need to use their “turn out” muscles and warning that a too tight fifth position can lead to later injury.
The Young Dancers Competition has been praised by local dance teachers as being objective, affordable, fair, and educational. YDC competitors are grouped by age and each dancer takes a full class with the Master Teacher. Students are evaluated by dance faculty visiting from across the United States: guest judges this year were Louise Nadeau (Pacific Northwest Ballet), Andre Reyes (Tulsa Ballet) and Lisa Sundstrom (Oregon Ballet Theatre). Judges do not have access to competitor’s names or studios, and students are evaluated purely on the basis of their technique, artistry, and training. Dress code for both class and performance is strictly tights and leotards.
In addition to showing the full class, each student competitor performs a classical, well-recognized ballet variation so the judges see the progression from studio class work to performance on stage. Finalists are selected on the basis of their work both in class and on stage, and finalists in the older age groups perform their variation a second time at the Finals on the third day of the event. Master Teacher Ringer says she loves YDC because “the students are not only judged just on the variation but also on the class work. Each finalist shows a full class and does their variation twice. It feels very complete.” The Competition culminates with selection of the top winners in each category, and over $20,000 in performance awards is presented to Finalists to help further their dance education.
The Young Dancers Competition has been coordinated for almost two decades by Artistic Director Monica Hill, named a Living Legend of Dance in 2015 by the Carson Brierly Giffin Dance Library. The event has been organized by volunteers from the Denver Ballet Guild since 1981, and the Guild subsidizes the Competition in order to keep entry fees low.
Haley Mae Wilson won the 1st Place award in Category IV and the prestigious Florence Ruston Medallion for Overall Excellence. Wilson also achieved international recognition earlier this year when she took 3rd Place in classical dance in the senior division at the Youth America Grand Prix Competition in Paris. Last year’s YDC Florence Ruston Medallion Winner, Paulina Teran, placed in the top 12 at YAGP.
The David Parvin Award for Outstanding Young Artist, designated for dancers aged 12-13, was awarded to Lydia Foley. “I’m on Cloud 9,” Lydia said after receiving her Award. “There were so many wonderful dancers in my age group. The fact that the judges recognized me gives me so much confidence. I’m still shaking.”
Each dancer also gets to attend a question and answer session with the Master Teacher, and Ringer shared her wisdom about ballet during these sessions. She encourages her students to look at themselves as whole people and says, “Do things other than ballet too. Go to the movies. Have friends who are not ballet dancers. Learn how to knit a scarf. Make sure that you are enriching yourself as a whole person and not just as a ballet dancer. Ballet can be a vital and important part of you, but you have so much more to you than just being a ballet dancer.”
Colorado Ballet treated the audience at the Finals to stunning performances of the Act II Pas de Deux from “Swan Lake” (danced by Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano) and Amy Seiwert’s, “It’s Not a Cry” (danced by Asuka Sasaki and Francisco Estevez). From 12-year old Lydia Foley to 17-year old Haley Mae Wilson to Colorado Ballet principal and former Florence Ruston Medallion Winner Chandra Kuykendall, the level of talent on the stage at the Young Dancers Competition was exceptional. Colorado ballet dancers are striving for excellence and soaring as high in their dreams as their grand jetes will take them.
Hilary Simons Morland: Hilary is a free-lance writer and grant-writer, and writes often about dance. She is a life-long aficionado of the performing arts, and studied dance through college. Hilary is a Denver Ballet Guild Board Member and Adjunct Faculty at the Colorado Women’s College, University of Denver. In the past, she has done fieldwork on lemurs and monkeys, coordinated conservation programs in Africa, and been a stay-at-home mom to three children, one of whom is a dancer. Hilary is a California native, and has a BA from Reed College and a PhD from Yale.