Skip navigation

Tag Archives: YAGP

By Deborah Searle
February 18, 2016



Brady Farrar (Farrar)10-year-old Brady Farrar is one to watch. Training at Stars Dance Company in Miami, the young dance prodigy and Capezio Athlete just won the Hope Award at the Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals in Atlanta. Brady is now busy training for the New York City Finals, at which he will be a serious contender for first prize after winning Mini Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance (NYCDA) and Mini Best Male Dancer at The Dance Awards in the last two years.

Fresh from performing at the YAGP Tampa Gala and from competing in Atlanta, the focused, yet humble, young man spoke to Dance Informa about his dance dreams and his journey thus far.

Last year you won Silver in your age division at the YAGP Finals in New York City. How did it feel?

“I felt overwhelmed at first, but then I was like, ‘Yessssss!’ It’s so cool, because everyone from all over the world was there. I was like, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t expect to get anything. I was like, ‘Really? I got this? Oh my.’”

Are you wanting to go for the Gold this year at the Finals in New York?

Brady Farrar (JP Photography)“Yes!”

What do you think is your strength as a dancer?

“Probably jumps and flexibility.”

What other competitions have you been competing in lately?

“I went to NYCDA and JUMP Convention (Break the Floor). I’ve been to Adrenaline too. I haven’t been to too many this year yet because it’s early in the year, but I hope to be going to more, like nationals.”

At Stars, you do a homeschool dance program. What is it like?

“Well, most kids go in to do homework from 8-9 am. There’s an optional yoga class, and if you don’t want to do that, you do school from 8-10 am. And at 10 am, there’s one ballet class from 10 am to 12 pm and then a 30-minute break. And then from 12:30 to 2:30 pm, there’s another ballet class. And at 2:30 to 5:30 pm, we do more school. And then from 5:30 pm on, we have the night classes until either 8:30 or 9:30 pm.”

Wow. So how many hours a week do you dance?

“Probably like 40 or 30 – something like that. It’s Monday to Thursday, leaving the weekends free for competitions and conventions.”

Brady Farrar (from Brady's Gallery at


What is it about dance that you really love? Why do you put so much time into dance?

“I think it helps me express how I feel. If I’m tired, I’ll dance kind of tired. And if I’m really energetic, I’ll dance happy and do some jazz. And if I’m sad and going through a rough time, like an elderly person is sick, I’ll dance really sad.”

Do you prefer ballet or contemporary?

“I like both. I can’t decide which I like better.”

Do you aspire to become a professional dancer?

“I want to be a professional dancer. And I want to be in a company, maybe like The Royal Ballet or somewhere around the world.”

Are you thinking a traditional ballet company or a contemporary dance company?

“A traditional ballet company.”

You won the national title of Mini Outstanding Dancer at NYCDA last year, and got a chance to model for Capezio as part of the NYCDA Model Search. The photo shoot was on the roof of the iconic 51st Street NYC store. What was that like?

“It was really fun because it was so high and I could feel the wind and see all of New York. It was so cool. I was with my friends, too. Capezio gave me lots of clothes and I wear the shoes all the time.”

What is it about Capezio clothes and shoes that you really like?

“They’re just so comfortable. They’re warm and some are tight fitting and some are loose and you can’t find that in other brands. [In other brands] there’s like one size for boys, or no half sizes, and they might be too big. But they fit it right to me with Capezio.”

Besides dance, what else do you like to do?

“I love to go shopping, I love swimming and I love building Legos. I also like playing with my brothers and going on vacation.”


© 2016 CAPEZIO



Jake Roxander, 13, practices at his family's ballet school, Studio Roxander, in Medford. Oregon (Mail Tribune, Denise Baratta) 2016


By Rebecca Scott
Mail Tribune
February 19, 2016


[Medford, Oregon, USA] – A lifelong, multigenerational passion for ballet and the arts runs deep through the Roxander family. Proud parents of two boys and owners of Studio Roxander Academy of Ballet, David and Elyse Roxander of Medford taught their sons all they know about life and the ballet.

At the Youth America Grand Prix in Seattle, Ashton and Jake Roxander competed against dancers from around the world and received top honors. The Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest international student dance competition.

“It’s also a total mob scene,” says Elyse. “There’s a small concrete area behind the stage, basically a loading dock, where the dancers warm up. You’re on stage with 80 or 90 people getting elbowed and knocked around. Then you have 15 minutes of stage time.”

Ashton Roxander, 18, is competing in April in the International Youth Ballet Competition in New York (Studio Roxander)

In spite of the tense environment, the brothers excelled at the competition. Ashton, 18, took first place in the Classical Senior Men’s/Women’s Division and second place in the Men’s Contemporary Division.

“It felt great to win first place in the Classical Division for the second year in a row. It was an honor, especially because I was competing against the girls as well as the boys,” says Ashton, who is a trainee with the Boston Ballet and actively pursuing a career as a professional dancer.



Jake, the youngest of the family at age 13, was awarded the elite youth Grand Prix title. The award is presented to the dancer who, according to the jury panel, has exceeded all other male and female scores in their division in both the Classical Ballet and Contemporary/Open Dance categories.

“I was incredibly nervous in Seattle,” says Jake. “When they called my name, I was pretty calm, because I had imagined the scenario in my head so many times. It was just like what happened to one of my heroes, Aran Bell.”

Bell won the Grand Prix when he was 12.

“Heroes of mine are always a huge deal for me,” says Jake. “Aran Bell was an inspiration to keep learning and dancing.”

It wasn’t only the Roxander brothers who were honored at the regional event. David and Elyse received a special award for Outstanding Teacher. “My dad is the most qualified in the area to train male dancers, and that’s not just my opinion,” says Ashton.

David’s experiences with the ballet began as a baby. “My mom was a ballet teacher. She went back to dancing shortly after I was born. She used to put my bassinet under the piano. My earliest memories are sleeping and hearing the piano play.”

David and Elyse initially moved to Southern Oregon from the San Francisco Bay Area for a quieter lifestyle. “We wanted to get out of the rat race,” explains Elyse. “We didn’t plan on opening a business.”

Studio Roxander opened in 2009 and moved to its current location in downtown Medford five years later. Six months before the studio opened, David’s mother passed away. “Before I said goodbye to her, I promised I wouldn’t let her memory die for the boys,” David says. “We decided to open the school in her name. Our logo is one of her drawings, so every time you walk into the main studio, you see her.”

Ashton and Jake each scored a 96 out of 100 at the Youth America Grand Prix, which qualifies them to compete for international titles in their respective categories at a competition in April in New York City. “It’s like the Olympics with no practice,” says David.

The Roxanders will spend eight days in Manhattan, traveling all over the city to different venues. The boys will compete for two days and perform in master classes the remainder of the time. The classes are also judged.

The Roxanders attended the New York competition last year and have an idea of what to expect. “We stayed in an apartment rather than a hotel,” says Elyse. “We’d go back every night, have a normal meal, talk about what happened that day and about tomorrow.”

“You’re riding this toboggan of emotion and drama,” says David. “But family keeps it together. You’re reminded of the power of a family unit.”

While the brothers experience the pressures of performing, David and Elyse feel the weight of being both parents and teachers. “As a teacher you have a buffer, because it’s your student,” says David. “But when it’s your child who is your student, the layers of responsibility are so heavy it’s hard to keep your professional distance. You think about what you’ll say if he loses. You want him to know it’s OK and this is only a stepping stone. Win or lose, this is one event in a lifelong string of experiences.”

Whatever the result of the competitions, David and Elyse know their sons will come out the other side better young men. “I want my sons to be confident and believe in themselves,” says David. “This event will be a valuable experience forever. If they can get through this, they can get through anything.”


© Copyright 2016 Local Media Group, Inc

Related Article: Ballet in the life of Holden Jones

The Edmonds Beacon
May 14, 2015


Aeden Conefrey performs in Olympic Ballet Theatre’s Coppelia (Olympic Ballet Theatre)[Edmonds, Washington, USA] – Eighteen year-old Aeden Conefrey, an Edmonds native and Olympic Ballet School alumnus, placed second in the senior men’s classical category at the 2015 Philadelphia Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition.

He then went on to compete in the New York finals, where he placed in the top 12. The YAGP is the world’s largest international student dance competition and has jumpstarted the careers of many of today’s leading dancers worldwide.

A senior in high school, Conefrey has spent the 2014-15 school year training on scholarship at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

For the past several months, he has spent countless hours perfecting his technique in the studio, while completing his academic studies independently. It was his prior training at Olympic Ballet School under Oleg Gorboulev and Mara Vinson that awakened his desire to dance professionally.

“Had Oleg and Mara not shown an interest in Aeden, and provided a great foundation for him, it’s not likely he would have done as well as he has,” said Conefrey’s father Kevin Conefrey, a member of the Edmonds Arts Commission.

Conefrey trained at Olympic Ballet School for three years, performing in Olympic Ballet Theatre productions such as “The Nutcracker,” “Giselle,” “Coppelia,” and even the lead in “Petrushka” with The Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall.

Looking back on his son’s time at Olympic Ballet School Kevin Conefrey said, “In the summer of 2011, Mara and Oleg first asked for permission to have Aeden participate in their upcoming Nutcracker season.

“Aeden had just finished his summer intensive and recital. Dawn-Rene and I were both hesitant – Olympic Ballet seemed like a really big commitment. Very quickly Olympic Ballet Theatre led to attending Olympic Ballet School. For three years Aeden blossomed as a ballet dancer with Olympic Ballet. Ultimately, he decided he wanted to pursue dance as a career.” Conefrey’s success at YAGP has brought offers of scholarships to continue his training at Dutch National Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Zurich Dance Academy, as well as the Joffrey Ballet in the U.S.

Though faced with a difficult choice to make, Conefrey is headed on his path, in pursuit of his goal to dance professionally.

Harrison Lee, 14, winner of the Youth America Grand Prix (Steven Siewert) 2014-01


By Joel Meares
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 19, 2014


Four years ago, dancer Harrison Lee was invited to New York to audition to play Billy Elliot on Broadway. He danced and sang his heart out but missed out on the part by a few centimetres. ”They were looking for someone under four foot 11 (1.5 metres) and Harrison was just a tiny bit too tall,” mother Cindy said.

The role would not have been a stretch – Harrison’s life reflects Elliot’s, right down to the way he stumbled upon ballet. When he was six, Lee’s grandmother dragged him along to his younger sister’s first ballet class. He had wanted to stay in the car (Cindy says he was ”being an angry little ant”), but gran refused and made him sit in. When the music began to play, something changed. ”As soon as it started, I just wanted to get up and dance,” said Harrison, of Castle Hill. ”It just took over my body, it went through me.” He began tapping his feet, his eyes widened. He promptly marched over to the teacher and asked to join in the class.

Harrison, 14, this month took out the world’s most prestigious ballet prize for young people, the Youth America Grand Prix. Over six days, across six venues in New York, Harrison danced in workshops and in staged performances with 440 dancers from 31 countries, all under the gaze of adjudicators and scouts from the world’s best ballet schools.

Harrison Lee, 14, winner of the Youth America Grand Prix (Steven Siewert) 2014-02During the April 9 final, held at the David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Centre, home of the New York City Ballet, Harrison performed a variation from classical ballet Flames of Paris, originally choreographed by Vasily Vainonen. It is a huge task – a dynamic, spiralling, leap-filled piece – and Harrison executed it beautifully, striding cleanly and elegantly ”That was a lot of pressure,” he said of the final performance. ”Everyone else in my section was bringing more to their performances. I just wanted to go out there and smash it and give it my all.”

The next day he won the junior grand prix prize, singling him out as the best overall junior male or female dancer. He received scholarship offers to join the American Ballet Theatre school in New York and the Royal Ballet School in London – he could be living in either city as soon as September – and emails are still rolling in inviting him to more schools.

Backstage during competitions, he ignored the antics of other dancers. ”It’s very fierce,” he said. ”There are a lot of mind games that go on backstage. People put each other off by showing off in front of them to scare them. I usually just stick my headphones in and block everyone else out.”

Cindy said Harrison had not faced much teasing or bullying because of his dancing. ”In year 2, the kids had to stand up and say their name and something about themselves,” Cindy said. ”He stood up and said ‘I’m Harrison and I’m going to be a famous dancer.’ And that was it.”


Copyright © 2014 Fairfax Media


Related Articles:

Young dancers win lead roles

Young dancer pursues his dream

Young dancer excels at Sydney Eisteddfod

Young dancer leaps to success

Castle Hill dancer sure has rhythm


Haruo Niyama, Yuki Sugiura and Jun Masuda pose in New York  after winning top prizes in the Youth America Grand Prix (Kenji Kato, The Yomiuri Shimbun) 2014

The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jiji Press
April 11, 2014

[New York City, New York, USA] – Japan’s Haruo Niyama won first place Thursday in the senior division for men in this year’s Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s largest student ballet competitions.

The senior division is for dancers aged 15 to 19. Niyama, a 17-year-old high school student in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, drew attention after winning the top prize in the 2014 Prix de Lausanne, a prestigious international competition for young ballet dancers, in February.

“I think he was under pressure after winning the top prize in Lausanne,” his 26-year-old sister, Hitomi, said. “I’m happy he was able to dance as usual,” she said.

Jun Masuda, a 13-year-old from Osaka Prefecture, also won first place in the YAGP’s junior division for men aged 12 to 14.

The U.S. ballet competition is held annually in New York and is open to student dancers of all nationalities aged 9 to 19.

© 2014 The Yomiuri Shimbun

Related Article:  Haruo Niyama, 17, wins Prix de Lausanne

Austen Acevedo, 14, finished second in his age range of 12-14 and Blake  16, placed third in his range, 15-19.

Orlando Ballet School student Austen Acevedo      Blake Kessler, JuniorYAGP NYC 2011

By Alice Robb
The New Republic
October 14, 2013

The International Olympic Committee recently voted [September 2013] to restore wrestling to the Olympic Games in 2016. One activity that’s never been put before the committee: ballet. Despite its physical similarities to gymnastics, ice-skating and ballroom dance, most ballet dancers would bristle at the suggestion that it’s a sport—and yet, many ballet teachers and directors have embraced Olympic-style competitions in which aspiring dancers compete for gold, silver and bronze medals, scholarships, contracts and even cash.

“The curious thing about dance now, and ballet in particular,” Jennifer Homans recently argued in The New Republic [October 4, 2013], “is that it has taken the form but left the feeling. Artists today seem more attached to form than perhaps ever before—wedded to concept, abstraction, gymnastic moves and external appearance.” This dearth of feeling might have something to do with the growth of competition culture, in which artistry is scored and treated as just another variable. For instance, at the Youth America Grand Prix, the biggest annual student competition, artistry and technique are equally weighted, with each evaluated on a 100-point scale. And some students at many of the world’s top ballet schools, like the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre and London’s Royal Ballet School, are recruited through competitions like the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), the New York International Ballet Competition, and the Prix de Lausanne.

While ballet companies worldwide have been struggling to attract audiences and donors, competitions have been growing ever bigger and more commercial. The last few decades have seen increasing participation and corporate sponsorship, as well as the founding of new competitions like YAGP in 1999 and the World Ballet Competition (WBC) in 2007. At YAGP, the biggest student competition, over 5,000 participants— some as young as nine—vie for scholarships, cash, and even modeling contracts. YAGP was further popularized by the well-received 2011 documentary First Position, which follows six contestants as they make their way from the regional preliminaries to the finals in New York.

Needless to say, some traditionalists object. “I don’t like the idea of that kind of competition,” said Carol Sumner, who danced as a soloist at New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. “To be a great dancer doesn’t mean to have a great technique. What you have to be is interesting. Mr. B [Balanchine] said he chose dancers that are interesting to look at, he chose dancers that he wanted to see everyday—not necessarily the strongest ones.” But being interesting to look at won’t get you far when you’re being scored on the height of your extensions and the number of pirouettes you can turn.

Competitions may be especially detrimental for young dancers, who haven’t had a chance to develop a sense of artistry. “Kids sitting in the audience, they get wowed when they see a kid do four or five pirouettes or see their leg go over their head,” said Susan Jaffe, Dean of Dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and former Ballet Mistress at American Ballet Theatre. “This is pure physical talent and that, of course, is not where the art of ballet lives.”

The rise in student ballet competitions might have something to do with the growing competitiveness of all children’s activities, from chess tournaments to spelling bees. Little League baseball—whose “world series” is now broadcast on ESPN—was founded in 1939; North America’s first international ballet competition was organized 25 years later. In The Atlantic last month, Harvard sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman relates the rise of competitive children’s sports to the frenzy surrounding college admissions as students scramble to fill out the “awards” section on their college applications. TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, which have both been running since 2005, might also have played a role in normalizing dance contests.

Homans and other critics and dancers lament that ballet is no longer the crowd-pleasing, exciting spectacle it was a century ago. “It is worth recalling that when Sleeping Beauty premiered in Russia in 1890, it was like watching Technicolor for the first time: controversial, visually overwhelming, a new way of seeing,” she writes. This is hard to imagine today; contemporary audiences consist disproportionately of dancers and ex-dancers. “Dancers in competitions are just pleasing each other, pleasing their peers, pleasing the judges,” said Sumner. “It’s kind of incestuous.”

This is not to say that ballet is not inherently competitive. Dancers at every level compete constantly—for spots in summer programs and schools, for attention from teachers and directors, for roles and promotions. But there’s a difference between competitive rivalry and formalized competition. Homans writes that ballet today suffers from “too much athleticism” and a “fear of feeling.” What could be more likely to exacerbate the emphasis on technique than training dancers to please a panel of trained judges rather than a general audience?

© Copyright 2014 The New Republic

Thomas Dilley, 15, has been selected to compete in the finals of the YAGP in New York, He trains full time at Tuggerah at Premiere Elite (Source News Limited) 2014

By Emma Herd
Central Coast Gosford Express Advocate
February 12, 2014

[Bateau Bay, New South Wales Australia] – Thomas Dilley has capped off an incredible comeback from injury with selection in the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in New York.  Dilley, 15, of Bateau Bay, who was unable to walk for four months last year after breaking a bone in his foot, has rebounded to be in better form than ever.

But even he was blown away when he was informed of his selection in the top 350 dancers from 7000 entrants worldwide for the prestigious competition. His application DVD – which included a performance of Le Corsaire – was submitted in November, with emails checked frequently in the ensuing months.

Dilley received the news by email on his birthday on February 15 – the ultimate present for the aspiring professional dancer. “I was really shocked and just really excited,’’ Dilley said.

While he has been dancing since the age of five, he didn’t move into classical ballet training until age 12, which is when he started working with dance instructor Kahlia Mehmet, of Premiere Elite, Tuggerah. Mehmet said the potential was always there with Dilley and his dedication to his craft has been constant.

“He’s put in a lot of work – he’s now full time and home schooled – the effort has been huge to get him to this point,’’ she said. “It’s been all his hard work and dedication.’’

With his trip to New York less than two months away, Dilley is preparing to take on the best in the world, while his parents work out how to secure the funds to make it happen.

Thomas Dilley, 15, has been selected to compete in the finals of the YAGP  in New York (photo - News Limited) 2014

Julie and David Dilley couldn’t be more proud of the youngest of their six children. “When the acceptance came through I just started shaking,’’ Mr Dilley said. “I know how much this means to him.’’

While Mr Dilley needs to stay on the Central Coast to work and look after the rest of the family, Mrs Dilley is hopeful of making the trip with her son and Mehmet.

The Dilleys are hopeful of support from individuals and Central Coast businesses. A family friend has also set up a fundraising website.

Details: or

Makani Yerg, 12, participates with other boys in the master class on modern dance on the VMA stage in Providence (photo by Mary Murphy) 2014

By Barbra Polichetti
The Providence Journal
February 9, 2014

[Providence, Rhode Island, USA] – In the darkened interior of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, the blocks inside the toes of deceptively soft-looking ballet slippers made a repetitive thudding noise on the stage.

Over and over again, young dancers lifted willowy arms and raised themselves en pointe under the watchful eye of Charles Askegard, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. The Sunday afternoon workshop was one of several that ended a weekend of ballet competition and dance classes as Youth America Grand Prix held its regional semifinals in Rhode Island.

Photo Gallery

The Youth America Grand Prix is considered the largest student ballet scholarship competition in the world, awarding more than $250,000 a year in scholarships that send young dancers to leading schools and dance companies to continue their training.

Makani Yerg, 12, of Rockville, Md., participates in the master class in modern dance (photo by Mary Murphy) 2014About 350 dancers, ages 9 to 19, from throughout the Northeast showed up for the weekend event in Providence, which selected competitors to continue on to the finals in New York in April. Other regional semifinal events are being held across the country as well as in other countries, including Mexico, Japan and Belgium.

“This is just a great opportunity,” said Maureen Reed, of Easton, Pa., as she waited with her husband to watch their daughter, Colleen, take part in Askegard’s workshop. They were also waiting for the afternoon’s awards ceremony, which would tell them if Colleen, 18, would be competing in New York.

For the Reed family, it was a weekend of possibilities, and it was the same for Katya Strelnikova, artistic director of a small ballet company in New Jersey. A former soloist with the Moscow Ballet, Strelnikova said that Grand Prix competition is a place where dreams come true for some young dancers. And it also gives them wonderful performance experience and a chance to train with masters.

A dancer since the age of 5, Strelnikova, who was born in Russia, said she told her students to enjoy their competition performances and then pay attention to every detail of the workshops. “I said don’t worry about standing out in class,” she said. “I told them to be like a sponge.”

Strelnikova is artistic director of the Ballet Classique dance company, which is affiliated with a dance school in Middletown, N.J. She said that only a special few will find their way into the spotlight in the disciplined, competitive world of ballet. “They are going to have to reach,” she said, recalling her schooling in Russia. “They are going to have to have a certain talent … and they are going to have to work really hard.”

She said that her students had a great experience in Providence, and that being on the stage of Veterans Auditorium had given the young dancers a taste of performing like professionals.

And although Strelnikova was seated more than a dozen rows back from the stage, it didn’t mean she could relax. “Ballet is a passion,” Strelnikova said. “And sometimes, watching your dancers you find that you are squeezing your own body and toes — you want to help them that much.”

© 2014 The Providence Journal Co

%d bloggers like this: