High Five with Brian Young

Academy of Colorado Ballet sends two competition companies to events: Aspirations and Rhapsody.

Former competition dancer and now director of two competition companies at the Academy of Colorado Ballet, Brian Young studied dance at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he also performed in Vegas shows. After furthering his training with Gus Giordano and Pattie Obey, he landed a job with LA JazDanc in San Francisco. DT asked how he gets serious ballet students to take their pointe shoes to the competition circuit.

How did the Academy of Colorado Ballet get into competing?

This was a taboo idea from the start—creating a competition program at a professional ballet school—and it was a tough sell. We started three years ago with just a few students who had followed the former director from her previous studio. Now the group has grown into 55 dancers. The benefits are becoming more and more obvious with every competition we attend.

How integrated are the competition dancers with the Colorado Ballet company members?

When there are auditions for The Nutcracker or other productions with young dancer roles, the competition dancers get the first shot at the roles. Company members take some of our advanced classes, so they are all dancing together in the studio. Colorado Ballet dancers also choreograph some competition routines. Our dancers are given a ton of exposure to the advanced dancers and it gives them an edge to dance in that professional environment.

With two competition teams entering the same competitions, do your dancers compete against one another?

This year is the first year both our teams, Aspirations and Rhapsody, will be attending the same events. It’s fortunate that at most competitions you’re competing against the point system, not each other. Our teams will be up against each other in some categories, but we’re also competing with each other. This year we’re bringing a big production number to competition that includes 60 kids from both companies. We hold four-hour rehearsals once a month to learn the routine. Through this, the kids don’t feel like they’re competing against each other. Instead, we’re a bigger, better team working together.

Do you find that your affiliation with Colorado Ballet puts added pressure on the dancers at events?

Being a part of a pre-professional company school holds us to a higher standard. Our dancers know they’re representing a bigger picture than many other kids at competition. People expect more out of us. In a lot of ways that’s beneficial, but it’s also stigmatic. We’re just another group of kids out there competing and getting experience. Ultimately it’s a good challenge for us. Other studios always assume we can’t do anything other than ballet, so they’re shocked to see that our kids are equally

competitive in every style.

What is the most important lesson you can teach your competition dancers?

The importance of working as a team toward a common goal—they get to address and reach that goal with competition dancing. They also learn that the general onstage experience is invaluable. As a young dancer, you only get to perform in a few shows each year. That’s not enough onstage experience. We know that our kids are going to have a really good edge when they start looking for dance jobs because they have the highest quality of ballet training and so much performing experience through competitions.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.