A stream of Russian comes flying at a group of girls at the barre one sunny Monday at L.A.’s Yuri Grigoriev School of Ballet. Only a single word is decipherable to the untrained ear: “Lilit!” A tiny girl with dark hair and huge brown eyes moves her port de bras just a fraction of an inch forward. She does this like it’s the most natural thing in the world, without missing a beat of the combination’s frantic footwork. Yuri Grigoriev barely nods his head, acknowledging that she has done precisely what he asked, and moves on. A few minutes later, Lilit must again adjust her port de bras to avoid kicking her shoulder in a grand battement that sails past her ear.
Lilit Hogtanian, 15, took her first ballet class with Grigoriev on her sixth birthday; she knew then that she wanted to be a dancer. “I really loved it,” she remembers, “right from the first class.” Grigoriev called his wife, school administrator Alexandra Grigorieva, immediately afterwards and said, “You’ll never believe who came to class today.” A People’s Artist of Russia who has won the Youth America Grand Prix Best Teacher Award many times, Grigoriev recognized Lilit’s potential the minute he saw her. “He has not seen her kind of facility from anyone,” translates Grigorieva.
Lilit has already racked up some impressive credentials. Her La Sylphide variation at the 2007 Youth America Grand Prix earned her a place at the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in Monaco last summer, and she has been invited to participate in American Ballet Theatre’s New York summer session this year. YAGP sent her to the Prix de Lausanne this past January as part of its exchange program with the prestigious Swiss competition, so Lilit had an opportunity to perform for artistic directors from across Europe. Larissa Saveliev, the co-founder of YAGP, has had her eye on Lilit for three years. “There are so many great young dancers right now, but she’s out of the box, out of the mold—she’s unique,” says Saveliev.
Beyond her extreme extension and perfect proportions, Lilit’s soul shines through her every movement, from the épaulement of her neck all the way down to her impossibly articulate feet. There’s a generosity to her dancing; it’s obvious that she loves sharing her gift. And while she’s extremely humble—her eyes flicker with embarrassment when she receives any sort of compliment—her balances need no adjustment, and her movements could not be more assured.
Lilit’s commitment to her training is absolute, and she hopes to soon enter a new phase in her dance life, one that will take her far from L.A., home and Grigoriev. Her recent forays into the competition world have been with the hope that a leading ballet school will invite her to join their program. But it will be difficult for her to say goodbye to the coach who has shaped her so profoundly. He, too, admits to feeling sad. After teaching Lilit six days a week, it’s “like a parent when the children go off,” Grigoriev says.
She also will miss mom Lousine and dad Armen, architects who emigrated to the U.S. from Armenia two years before Lilit was born and support her every move (mom not only home-schools her, but also sews her gorgeous competition costumes). Then there’s her brother Artswin, 12, whom she laughingly admits to dressing up in her dance costumes when he was younger, and her adored cats Mochy and Angie.
“I think this year will be her moment,” says Saveliev. Though she has yet to receive the longed-for offer of a slot at a major school, Lilit says she doesn’t get nervous dancing for important people. But there’s no question that the stakes are high—ABT, The Kirov Ballet, The Royal Ballet and The Stuttgart Ballet are among her dream companies, and each opportunity to be seen by these directors could shape her career.
A shy girl in person, she admits she thrives on being “able to express myself and open up onstage.” She wasn’t intimidated to talk with Kirov and ABT star Diana Vishneva when she was just 10 years old, when Vishneva was warming up to perform in a touring Kirov production of La Bayadère. And two Decembers ago, Lilit found herself at the barre with Paloma Herrera during the premiere of Los Angeles Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, where Herrera was guesting. Lilit danced the starring role of Clara again this past year, earning praise from local critics. “When Yuri and I saw her as Clara,” says Grigorieva, “Yuri said, ‘I didn’t even know that she had this in her.’ She really became Clara. We all had goose bumps.”
Wherever Lilit ends up, they’ll be impressed by her work ethic. Amanda Kofsky, who choreographed Lilit’s contemporary piece for YAGP, describes working with her as “one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.” Instinctive and focused, Lilit’s abilities don’t end with classical variations. “She does every movement behind you,” says Kofsky, “without waiting for direction to do so.” In one rehearsal, she gave Lilit 20 corrections, without music or demonstrating the movement at length, and watched Lilit run through the piece with every correction just as she’d asked. “I make sure to pick up everything the coach is saying,” Lilit says. “It’s important to not make the same mistakes over and over.”
Grigoriev is wary of commenting on Lilit’s future—Russians are very superstitious—but he will say that he has “great hopes for her, and would love to see her dancing with a very good company,” says Grigorieva. Lilit loves the romantic ballets, and dreams that one day she’ll get to dance Juliet and Giselle like her favorite ballerinas Julie Kent, Svetlana Zakharova and Sylvie Guillem. And she has a few superstitions of her own—she admits that she has a set of lucky hairpins that she wears for auditions and performances. She and her pins seem set for stardom.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.