Quinn Starner performing a variation from Paquita at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA International Ballet Competition)

Inside USA International Ballet Competition with Quinn Starner

Quinn Starner is no stranger to competitions. The 16-year-old "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" alum has been slaying the contemporary circuit for years, winning Best Teen Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2017. But lately she's been more focused on ballet, relocating from Florida to train at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory two years ago. And while she's won awards at ballet competitions like ADC|IBC and Youth America Grand Prix, in June she upped the stakes by going to the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS—an audition-only event that's one of the world's most prestigious comps. We followed Quinn on her Jackson journey.

Quinn and her teacher, Alyona Yakovleva-Randall, both agreed that the USA IBC would be an invaluable learning opportunity. "The best dancers from all over the world are there," says Yakoleva-Randall. "It's a lot of pressure and a lot of work, but we thought it would be a great challenge." Unlike most competitions, USA IBC requires dancers to submit an audition video of their variations. "That was kind of scary," Quinn says. "It looks different when you do your variation in just your leotard and tights, rather than on a big stage with costumes and makeup!"

Courtesy Starner

In the weeks leading up to the competition, Quinn rehearsed her classical and contemporary variations for two hours a day with Yakovleva-Randall. "She expects a lot, and what I love is that she doesn't let anything go," Quinn says. "She's, like, the pickiest teacher ever—but to become a ballet dancer, that's exactly what you need."

Fun with friends at the competition's opening ceremony (courtesy Starner)

Quinn and the 119 other competitors moved into dorms at Belhaven University when they arrived in Jackson. "At most competitions, you'd just stay with family members in a hotel, but this system kept you totally involved," Quinn says. The set-up was a great way to make new friends. "At night we'd play movies, and everyone would just come and hang out."

Getting ready for rehearsal (courtesy Starner)

Each day, after an early breakfast, the competitors caught a shuttle bus to the downtown convention center for 9 am class. "The cool thing about class was we weren't separated by category. You were with everyone, even the seniors," says Quinn, who competed in the junior category. "It was so inspiring to see the professional dancers there!" She especially loved watching Soobin Lee and Sangmin Lee, two dancers from South Korea.

Quinn and her coach, Alyona Yakovleva-Randall, rehearsing at USA IBC (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA IBC)

After class, Quinn checked the schedule to find out her rehearsal time. Each IBC competitor was given one hour a day to work privately with their coach. "It didn't feel like enough time, especially with the way my teacher coaches," she says. "That was challenging."

Getting ready to perform (courtesy Starner)

Round I of the competition included both classical variations. "Before I compete, I do a full ballet barre and sit-ups and a floor barre to make sure everything is working right," Quinn says. She then puts on her headphones and goes through her variations with the music, practicing her port de bras and expression. "I try to tell myself positive thoughts."

"Quinn displayed a good work ethic," says Rinat Imaev, a teacher from The Washington Ballet School who taught the competitors' daily class. "She has wonderful physical ability, but needs to work on the fluidity of her movements."

Performing a variaton from "Flames of Paris" (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA IBC)

For the classical portion, Quinn prepped variations from Flames of Paris and Paquita. "Both are difficult, particularly Flames of Paris," says Yakovleva-Randall, citing the solo's challenging hops on pointe and speedy tempo. "I chose Paquita for Quinn because she has incredible flexibility, and it not only shows off her beautiful écartés, but also her allegro." For her contemporary solos, Quinn selected "Into the Storm," by Jason Parsons, and "Humans Rush By," by Teddy Forance—both of which have earned her accolades on the contemporary competition circuit.

Performing a variaton from "Paquita" (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA IBC)

"My Paquita variation was definitely one of my best runs," Quinn says. But she admits that her Flames of Paris solo could have gone better. "I think I just got a little nervous. It happens to everyone."

Quinn was disappointed to learn she didn't make it to Round II (contemporary). "But really it just motivated me even more," she says. "I went through everything that happened and tried to figure out what I need to do to fix it." She plans to continue to work towards her ultimate dream: to someday join a ballet company like New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theatre.

A version of this story appeared in the October 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "That (Ballet) Comp Life."

Latest Posts

Because there's never been a better time to binge-watch "Bunheads" (via Freeform)

5 of the Danciest TV Shows Streaming Right Now (and Where to Stream Them)

We're about two months into #SocialDisDancing, and let's be real—while we all wish we were spending every spare minute stretching, cross-training, or taking online classes, sometimes we just need to Netflix and chill.

We figure, if you're going to be watching TV anyways, why not make it dancy TV? After all, watching pros dance on-screen is basically dance class homework...or at least we'll say it is. Here are five of the danciest TV shows for you to watch—and where to find them.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
The cast of Center Stage in a promotional poster (courtesy Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Making of "Center Stage," as Remembered by Its Dance Stars

Whether you first watched it in a theater two decades ago or on Netflix last week, odds are you feel a deep connection to Center Stage. The cult classic, which premiered May 12, 2000, is arguably the greatest dance film ever made. (Dance obsessives might take issue with the "cult" before "classic," not to mention the "dance" before "film.") Jody Sawyer's ballet journey—which combines oh-wow-I've-had-those-blisters realism with wait-does-she-have-magic-color-changing-pointe-shoes fantasy—stands the test of time, early-aughts fashion be darned. We've memorized its highly quotable lines, laughed with (and, gently, at) its heroes, and been inspired by its sincere love of dance and dancers.

To celebrate Center Stage's 20th anniversary, we asked five of its dance stars to talk through their memories of the filming process. Here are their stories of on-set bonding, post-puke kissing scenes, and life imitating art imitating life.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

2020 Dance Grads: We Want to Put You on Our Cover!

Hello, all you members of the great Dance Class of 2020. With the world on lockdown, this hasn't been the graduation season you expected. You likely weren't able to go to prom; your commencement ceremonies have probably been delayed or canceled; and you might not have been able to take your planned-for final bow onstage.

Since you're missing out on so much, we'd like to give you a virtual ovation, to recognize all you've accomplished. And what's the highest honor we can bestow? The cover of Dance Spirit!

Here's the plan:

  • If you're a high school or college senior dancer, use this form to submit your information and dance portrait.
  • Each day during the month of May, we'll create a digital Dance Spirit cover starring one of you, chosen at random—31 covers in total.
  • At the end of the month, we'll create a "commencement video" featuring even more of your submitted dance photos.
  • 100 of you, selected by lottery, will also receive free one-year subscriptions to the print magazine.

Merde, 2020 graduates, as you dance your way into the future!

High School and College Senior Dancers: Submit Your Photo Here

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search