Eye on the Prize

Makensie dancing “Liebesleid,” her contemporary piece, at the YAGP finals in NYC. Photo by Hideaki Tanioka.

This past spring, ballet dancer Makensie Howe traveled to NYC for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, where she and other dancers competed for medals and scholarships. Makensie, who was 17 at the time and training at the Alexandra School of Ballet in Chesterfield, MO, qualified for the finals at the YAGP Indianapolis semifinals. (In Indianapolis, she also won the Grand Prix Award, which is given to the dancer the judges feel exceeded all others in both the classical and contemporary dance categories.) Here, she gives DS an inside look at this exciting ballet competition. —Katie Rolnick

March 16, 2011
It’s 11:15 pm and my mom and I just arrived in NYC! As we flew in, I saw the beautiful skyline. The city is such an exciting place with so much to do. But right now, we need to take a taxi to our friend’s apartment in Manhattan, where we’ll be staying during the competition. I’m looking forward to resting up for the busy week ahead.

March 17, 2011
The YAGP finals began today. Although I don’t dance until tomorrow, I had to go to the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts to register and pick up my information packet. Afterward, I got ready for my first ballet class of the week. Every day, YAGP finalists are invited to take classes taught by world-renowned ballet instructors. I arrived at the New York City Center Studios 30 minutes early so I could stretch and warm up. I was happy to see my instructor was Mr. Claudio Muñoz, the ballet master for Houston Ballet II. I met him at the Houston Ballet company auditions in February, but I had never taken one of his classes. He emphasized the importance of expressing yourself through movement, and I think this is imperative because so many dancers become too focused on technique and forget about expression.

March 18, 2011
Today was the senior women soloist contemporary competition. About a half hour before it began, there was an “Open Stage” session and we were able to test the floor and mark our movements. Then the competition started. There were 12 dancers before me on the lineup. I waited patiently in the wings, trying not to watch the other participants because I wanted to focus on my own piece. I performed a dance called Liebesleid set to music of the same name and choreographed by CiCi Houston, a ballet mistress at the Alexandra School of Ballet, where I train. I love this piece and think it showcases my strengths, including my port de bras and expansive movement quality. I’m pleased with my performance. I think I expressed the narrative well and I felt confident with my technical performance. And I always love being onstage!

March 19, 2011
Today, I didn’t have to compete. Lisa, the friend we’re staying with, teaches Pilates and gave me a private lesson. I thought this would benefit my body between my competition days. The stretching felt so good! Then my mom and I went shopping—because you can’t leave NYC without getting souvenirs.

March 20, 2011
Today was the senior women soloist classical competition. I danced Lise’s third-act variation from La Fille Mal Gardée. It’s a happy, quick and fun dance. While I warmed up, I listened to the music on my iPod and focused on trying to become Lise. I think it’s important to become the character I’m dancing, not just perform as Makensie dancing a variation. I think my performance went well. I’m relieved to be done with the initial rounds, but I hope I make it to the finals. YAGP will post the list of qualifiers tonight or tomorrow morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

March 21, 2011
After checking the YAGP Facebook page all night, I finally saw my name at 4 am. I made it to the final round! I danced my La Fille Mal Gardée variation again, and while I’m happy with my performance, I don’t expect to make the Top 12. I danced well, but the dancers here, who are from all over the world, are incredible.

March 22, 2011
Tonight at the awards ceremony, hundreds of scholarships were handed out and the winners in each age category were announced. I didn’t make the Top 12, but I’m so honored I made it to the final round. There was also a gala performance called Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow, and it was extraordinary! In the first act, several of the YAGP medalists and participants performed. In the second act, professional dancers performed, including New York City Ballet principals Daniel Ulbricht and Tiler Peck, former American Ballet Theatre principal Jose Manuel Carreño and the incredible Bolshoi Ballet principal Ivan Vasiliev. Jonathan “Legacy” Perez from “So You Think You Can Dance” also gave a surprise performance.

This was my second year at YAGP. Last year, Shelly Power, the associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, saw me dance in the finals and expressed an interest in working with me. Just before this year’s competition, I signed a contract with Houston Ballet II for the 2011–12 season. I’m looking forward to taking the first step of my professional career.

Fast Facts
Dance idol: Julie Kent
Dream role:
Juliet in Romeo and Juliet
Favorite dance movie:
The Turning Point
Favorite food:
Macaroni and cheese
Hidden talent:
Singing
Favorite book:
My Ántonia

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