What It Takes to Win Gold at the USA International Ballet Competition

Gisele Bethea (with partner Slawek Wozniak) earned a gold medal at the 2014 USA IBC. (Jim Lafferty)

A very elite group of young ballet dancers—including Elisabeth Beyer, Madison Penney, Quinn Starner, and Robbie Downey—are super busy right now prepping for the USA International Ballet Competition, which kicks off June 10th. One of the most prestigious comps in the ballet world, the USA IBC is held every four years in Jackson, MS, and boasts a ton of luminary alums, including Gisele Bethea, Alys Shee, Daniil Simkin, Jeffrey Cirio, Sarah Lamb, and Rasta Thomas (to name just a few).

So, what does it take to impress the judges at such a high-profile event? USA IBC jury chair John Meehan, a professor of dance at Vassar College, talked about the qualities that make a competitor stand out:


1. Look for passion within technique. Meehan encourages the idea that a dancer's passion and technique go hand-in-hand. "Good technique shows up at competitions, as there are many wonderful dancers with high levels of technique; but then, along comes somebody with this 'other dimension'—something that somehow speaks to you in a deeper place," said Meehan. "There has to be something that stays with you...when you leave the performance; it has to touch you. That is the difference between a good and a great dancer."

2. Details matter. The same variations of dance that serve as the repertoire for the USA IBC have existed for hundreds of years...[Meehan says] the small details incorporated into a performance that deviate from the norm...allow a dancer to stand out. "Many jurors are looking to see what freshness is brought to the competition; it's always fascinating to see the details."

3. Trust yourself. According to Meehan...there [isn't] one "right or wrong" element when it comes to ballet...."There is something special about the humanity of ballet...You have to let the performance wash over you, and maintain, or exceed, that feeling in the second and third rounds, as well."

Not one of the lucky few competing at USA IBC this year? You can still get an insider's look at the action: We'll be going behind the scenes with Maddy Penney on Instagram. Stay tuned!

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