By Rachel Kennedy of Dance Informa.
The Youth America Grand Prix is the subject of the 2012 ballet documentary ‘First Position’. It follows the journey of six extremely dedicated and aspiring young dancers as they compete to perform in the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City.
The hours of training and level of commitment displayed by the young dancers in this film is incredible and the support of their parents, admirable. The film is a true indication of just how hard young dancers need to work to get to a professional level and the sacrifices they make to do what they love!
The Youth America Grand Prix is an annual ballet competition held across 15 cities in the US and five international cities. The competition is open to 9-19 year olds and awards scholarships to leading dance schools in the US and abroad, such as American Ballet Theatre, The Ailey School, The Australian Ballet School and the Dutch National Ballet. Mentorships, professional and performance opportunities are also offered by the presenting dance schools and companies.
The competition is divided into three divisions: Senior Age Division (15-19 years old), Junior Age Division (12-14 years old) and Pre-Competitive Age Division (9-11 years old). There are 440 regional and international finalists chosen to compete in the New York City finals. After the first round in New York, 20 finalists are chosen from each division. From those 20 the Top 12 are chosen and from there Gold, Silver and Bronze are awarded in each division separately for girls and boys. There is also an award for the Best Overall Performance.
All in all, the Youth America Grand Prix provides a unique platform for young dancers to be seen and discovered.
Young South Australian dancer Meg Rafinian, 10, of Salisbury Downs became determined to get to the New York City finals of the YAGP after watching ‘First Position’ two years ago. As there are no auditions held in Australia, Meg applied by submitting a YouTube video (video submissions are only considered if there is room after the regional Semi Finals have been held.) Unfortunately, her scores were not high enough and she wasn’t selected to compete in the finals.
However, Meg, who is not discouraged easily, decided to try again at the end of 2014. She submitted three dances for consideration: Swanilda, Sugar Plum Fairy and a contemporary solo. This time she was successful with scores of over 95 for each of her dances!
Meg, a friendly, bubbly, dedicated and very talented young dancer, says she loves ballet because “it’s fun and challenging”. Miki, Meg’s Mum, says “people think I push her but she wants to do it”. And when you meet Meg, you can see how true that is.
Meg trains at Turning Point Dance in Salisbury, South Australia. She trains five days a week there and trains the other two days at home by herself and with her Mum. Meg trains in ballet, tap and jazz. As well as Dynamic Dance Pilates devised and taught by Janet Bridgman, former ballet dancer and rehearsal director for Australian Dance Theatre.
Michelle Hofmann, Principal of Turning Point Dance has taken Meg under her wing and really extended her natural talent. Meg’s Mum says ‘Miss Michelle is really caring but pushes her students” and “Meg loves it”.
Meg made the move to Turning Point Dance at the age of seven after a trip back to Miki’s home country, Japan. Miki took Meg to classes with her former teacher and Meg was inspired by the “quiet, focused and disciplined” approach to the classes. When they returned from Japan Meg really missed those classes, so Miki went searching for a suitable school. It was through a friend that Miki discovered Turning Point, which was coincidentally only five minutes from their home. Miki now teaches at the school also.
Miki, a former dancer herself, choreographed Meg’s contemporary solo “A Tribute to Mao Asada.” The solo was based on Miki’s emotional reaction to figure skater Mao Asada’s triumphant free skate at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships after a disastrous short program.
Miki felt that she had to make a dance about her experience and even though she describes the piece as “quite mature” she believes that Meg does “a really good job of it”.
Meg hopes to be a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet someday and says that Lucinda Dunn is her ballet idol.
When I asked Meg what she hopes for in New York she said she is hoping to make it into the Top 12 in her age division and from there hopes to receive one of the scholarships on offer.
Meg and her Mum leave for New York on April 8th in time for the finals that start on April 10th and run through until April 16th.
Here’s wishing Meg all the best on her quest for ballet excellence and exciting opportunities. We can’t wait to hear how it all goes in New York City!
Meg’s video entries are available to view on YouTube here.
Photo (top): Youth American Grand Prix competitor Meg Rafinian. Photo by Suzanne Opitz.