August 2014 | On My Mind

Beautiful technique, gorgeous feet, and a whole lot of desire for excellence—that’s how I would describe the world-class ballet dancers I saw at the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. From classes to performances to teacher workshops, everything about the event was a class act.

Though I was there for only one of the two weeks, there was much to see and learn from—so much so that I’m still absorbing it, days after the event ended. One observation keeps resurfacing in my mind, though—the fact that audiences saw the same Raymonda variation or Le Corsaire pas de deux many times, performed by many dancers, yet didn’t get bored. Why? Because each performance was unique in its own way. Personality, body line, and individual passion brought a sense of freshness to the same choreography seen over and over again.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

In addition, limiting the competitors’ performances to a handful of variations and pas de deux served an important purpose: it gave the judges (and audiences) equal ground on which to compare the technical aspects of the movement. That uniformity meant that choreography wasn’t a variable in the judging process, which allowed all the focus to be devoted to the dancers’ technique and artistry. I liked that aspect. Still, I kept wondering how the panel of 11 international adjudicators would or could make their choices; after all, even the competitors who might not have achieved a close-to-perfection performance were beautiful dancers. I’m confident that many of them will have professional careers, win or no win at the USA IBC.

What does all this mean to you? Simply this: I would hope that all you private studio owners and teachers would make it a point, every four years, to go to the USA IBC with your students. Once you do, you will recognize the value of experiencing and supporting this event. Teachers everywhere constantly tell students that they need to stretch their feet, close the rib cage, lift through the center in those pirouettes, and so on. But the best way for students to grasp those concepts and internalize them is to watch and study dancers who are doing exactly what’s needed.

The USA IBC is a once-every-four-years event, so you’ve got time to plan your visit to Jackson in 2018. There are classes for teachers and students, and performances almost every night, by both competitors and professional companies. Plus, you’ll get the chance to mingle with some of the most prestigious ballet masters and company directors in the world. And the best part? You’ll leave with a sense of joy, simply because you’ll have immersed yourself in dance and the powerful and inspiring art that it can be.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.