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.