The Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest student ballet competition. It’s open to dancers aged 9-19 years old and it provides full scholarships to the top ballet schools in the world. In its 13 years of existence, the Youth America Grand Prix has awarded over $2 million in scholarships. It is the most exclusive, coveted student ballet competition there is–and of the over 5,000 top tier contenders who vie for spots each year, about 200 are chosen. The award-winning documentary, First Position, which debuted last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, follows six competitors from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, as they train and compete.
One of the dancers is Michaela DePrince, an orphan from Sierra Leone, whose parents were shot when she was only three years old. At four, an American couple adopted her and enrolled her in her first ballet classes. DePrince, now 17, is finishing her last year at the renowned Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
A Huffington Post article published earlier this month discusses the racial obstacles DePrince and dancers like her face:
Being a “dark black ballet dancer,” she said, means she has to work “10 times harder” than everyone else.
In 2007, The New York Times reported that though “other minorities have made inroads in classical ballet, the complicated reality of racial inequality persists, especially for black women.”
DePrince was recently featured in the just-concluded season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
See her and the other young Youth America Grand Prix hopefuls in the First Position trailer below: