Dancer from Tampa's Blake High School in world's largest ballet scholarship competition

We talked to Zoe Gallagher about the Youth America Grand Prix.

click to enlarge This past weekend, ballet dancers competed at the world's largest ballet scholarship competition. - Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
This past weekend, ballet dancers competed at the world's largest ballet scholarship competition.

Not many people know this, but I was once a performing ballerina. I danced onstage with some of the greats, long-limbed women with names like Isobel and Anastasia. I performed in the Tchaikovsky classic, The Nutcracker, and my parents were so proud they invited a group of my friends to attend the show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Everyone got all fancy, and we went to dinner and had a sleepover afterwards. I even got roses after my final performance.

OK, so maybe I was cast in the less-than-significant role of Toy Soldier No. 7. And maybe I was only cast because of my awkwardly tall stature rather than any actual talent, but still. Dancing the part in an iconic Christmas ballet remains one of my favorite childhood memories. I still have the T-shirt signed by my fellow ballerinas.

It’s funny now, because anyone who knows my fumbling fitness junkie self knows I wouldn’t last five seconds on a stage of any sort, let alone one requiring a tutu and pink tights. Still, though, I always look back on my dancing days wistfully and wish I had stuck with ballet long enough to raise my feet en pointe just once. Of course, they probably don't make ballet slippers large enough to fit my gargantuan hooves, and my clumsiness prevents me from doing anything with grace. But the fact remains I have an absolute love for the art of ballet.

When I found out about the Youth America Grand Prix and the Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala, which took place in Tampa Bay this past weekend, my heart skipped a beat.

CL A&E Editor Cathy Salustri didn't know any of this when she asked me to cover the story; she simply said it’s fitness-related.

I assemblé at the chance.

click to enlarge Daniel Ulbricht, a St. Pete native who now dances with the New York City Ballet, performed at the gala. - Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
Daniel Ulbricht, a St. Pete native who now dances with the New York City Ballet, performed at the gala.

Cathy's right (editor's note: I never get tired of hearing that): Ballet is fitness-related. I would actually call it sort of a sport. It’s “sort of” a sport because it is definitely a sport, but also so much more than just a sport. Ballet is a communication between the physical body and the emotional space one’s body occupies. It's a way to manipulate your limbs to take up space, a way to flow with grace and surprise. I have absolute awe and respect for anyone committed to mastering such poise and precision.

The dancers of Next Generation Ballet certainly have poise and precision. The Next Generation Ballet  — a company that provides the stepping stone for young ballet dancers looking to make a career of their art — hosts the Youth America Grand Prix each year at Tampa's Straz Center for the Preforming Arts.

The Youth America Grand Prix is “the world's largest ballet student scholarship competition and global dance network,” according to a press release from the Straz. Ballet dancers ages 9 to 19 spent last weekend competing for scholarships and offers to join local and international dance groups. Dancers, choreographers and aficionados alike then wrap things up with a gala performance.

I spoke 15-year-old Zoe Gallagher, a dancer competing at the Grand Prix. Gallagher sounds mature beyond her years when she gets on the phone and politely chuckles with me as I reminisce about my old days of dance. When she tells me she's danced ballet for about three years, I'm surprised, as many competitive dancers have been training since they were barely out of diapers. Interestingly enough, Gallagher started taking dancing lessons at age 4; she fell in love with Irish dancing and practiced the style for several years. It was only when she started at Oak Grove Middle Magnet School that she was exposed to ballet.

“How different could it be?” the ballerina remembers asking herself.

And that was that. She made the switch to focus on ballet.

Focus is an understatement: Gallagher is a student at Blake High School in Tampa, where she's an orchestra major. When she’s not in academic classes or slinging string, the dancer spends her time taking ballet lessons several hours a day. It is “definitely really challenging,” she says.

To top it all off, she's in dual enrollment with a local college.


I consider how nerve-wracking it must be for the 15-year-old to hit the stage in a mere five minutes, and I mention this to her. She admits she is “obviously a little bit nervous, but mainly excited.” Gallagher says she “has been working really hard” on her solo and is officially “ready to get onstage.”

Such elegance and grace can only come from an artist.

I wish her luck. She's gracious, and I get the sense she will certainly achieve her goal of being offered a scholarship or position at a dancing company.

click to enlarge YAGP 2017 Daniel Ulbricht ballet dancer male - Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
Courtesy of Leslie Farrell
YAGP 2017 Daniel Ulbricht ballet dancer male

As Gallagher prepares to warm up, I speak with Philip Neal, the artistic director of the Straz’s Next Generation Ballet. A gifted ballet dancer with an impressive pedigree himself (he was a principal dancer with New York City Ballet for over 20 years), Neal is now a choreographer and gets to be “on the other side of the stage,” he tells me. He started choreographing as a dancer and focuses on the art of choreography in order to help “create something special for each individual dancer,” as well as highlight their specific talents in their three-and-a-half minutes onstage.

Neal describes the weekend’s schedule: an assortment of competitions for male and female dancers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The gala is Saturday, an evening of special performances from world-renowned dancers across the globe. Sunday includes a post-competition awards ceremony.

It’s not often people get the chance to witness such a unique series of events. With young students competing for scholarships, performances from seasoned professionals and a celebration of choreographers and instructors, the weekend is full of rare opportunities to see some of the great dancers of the world take the stage in our own hometown.

The Straz hosts our region’s Youth America Grand Prix annually. Now in its 20th year, the YAGP takes place throughout the States, culminating with New York City’s final rounds in April.

Once again, I'm reminded how lucky I am to live here. From a clumsy Toy Soldier No. 7 preteen to an adult with the utmost admiration and respect for ballet, I vow to attend more events like this in the new year.

I hope you do, too.

About The Author

Resie Waechter

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="5bccb9c0b38df12e008b45d6" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Resie Waechter is a recent USFSP graduate who majored in English literature and cultural studies with a minor in history. She is a fumbling fitness junkie with a special...
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