Jolie Lombardo – YAGP

International ballet competitions the likes of Youth America Grand Prix attract thousands of aspiring artists every year. Most of the participants aim to win. After all, it’s a competition, not a gala. But this should not be the goal.

This year one young girl traveled all the way from the United States to Paris just for the workshops at the Paris Opera Ballet School. On her own, without even being a contestant at the Parisian round. For she knows perfectly, that the goal of the competitions in the ballet world is to show yourself, show your work, show your style. To gain that experience and to connect with the teachers. For medals do not make you a great dancer. Your determination does.

Jolie Lombardo is 14 years old and currently dancing at the Orlando Ballet School under the direction of Miles Burger. Her dream has always been to study ballet in Europe. In the past, she became the first recipient of the Shelley King award, which allowed her to participate in all YAGP events. Yet she never used it. Until there was a chance to go to Paris for the masterclasses in the Paris Opera school of ballet.

Paris is one of those cities that you can’t get enough of. And for Jolie, it was her first time here. Anyone else in this situation would naturally spend first few days drowning themselves in the ambiance of the City of Light. Anyone but Jolie. She did not come here to see the Eifel tower, she came here to see the artistic directors of the best ballet school in Europe. The tower can wait. In fact, she only decided to visit the central part of the city during her last day. This is what distinguishes the people in ballet. Even at the age of 14, they have their priorities straight and they are willing to sacrifice everything for their passion. Even the Eiffel Tower.

As I’ve mentioned, during the YAGP Paris, Paris Opera School hosts masterclasses for the participants of the competition. At these masterclasses, students are being observed by artistic directors and teachers of the ballet schools all over Europe to headhunt potential students. They examine each students’ current abilities and evaluate what they believe their future potential could be. If they are interested in you, they will speak with YAGP officials, and ask them about your particular situation. If you have indicated to them that you are interested, they might give you an offer to join their school.

Jolie managed to impress the teachers so well that by the end of it, despite not participating in the actual competition, she received several invitations. When asked about where exactly was she invited, she decided to keep that in secret. She has always felt that the scholarships she receives should remain private for fear that by not taking advantage of one over another, it might negatively affect what other people think of the school that was not chosen. Someone might think that because she didn’t choose one particular school, this school is in some way bad. That is why Jolie tries not to publicize the opportunities she receives.

Shelley King award played another major role in the life of Jolie by bringing her together with Larissa Saveliev – founder and artistic director of the YAGP. Larissa became her personal mentor and such a great mentor in fact, that Jolie trusts her with all the major decisions, including the choice of the school.

But as Jolie noted, and seeing it first hand, Larissa doesn’t serve as mentor exclusively to Jolie. She’s caring and helps all the participants. If the competition were a family, Larissa would be the mother. And in fact, the atmosphere of a family is what YAGP is like. You don’t feel like you are on the world’s biggest competitions, there is no pressure, it feels like you are at the family event, where everyone knows each other and cares about one another.

I’ve heard many people comparing YAGP to the Olympics. And indeed, there are some similarities, but overall it’s nothing like that. The point of competitions in ballet is not to, as Christopher Powney might put it, to impress judges by you tricks in this singular moment. No, the point is to show your work, your style, your dedication to your art, where art is not only technique or musicality, but the combination of everything.

Schools are not looking for the new Sergei Polunin during these competitions. They are looking for potential students, that will fit them not only skill wise but style-wise, personality wise. And then they’ll do their best to make you next Polunin. So don’t go there with the solemn goal to win by spinning more times than you can count. Go there to find the school that fits you.

As for Jolie, she’s back in the US getting ready for the competition. But because of prioritizing the right things, because of understanding the true point of the competitions, it doesn’t really matter how the competition goes. She has already won.