Eight young women, including three with ties to Clackamas County, have qualified to compete and compete in the Youth America Grand Prix Finals April 10-15 at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Calling the event the “Ballet Olympics,” Sarah Rigles, principal of the Classical Ballet Academy on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue in Portland, where all the girls train, added, “It’s the kind of opportunity that every teacher wishes for her students, and their success is a good reminder that sometimes hard work pays off.
The three young local women are Calla Lichtenwalter, 13, a Milwaukie resident who attends Clackamas Web Academy; Etta Partridge, 12, another Milwaukie resident who is in sixth grade at Alliance Charter Academy in Oregon City; and Ruby Staczek, 13, who lives in Eastmoreland but attends Clackamas Web Academy.
The eight girls performed a ballet called “Gongfu” in early February at the Youth America Grand Prix in Las Vegas. There they won top honors, which qualified them to take the dance to New York.
In addition to competing on the Lincoln Center stage, the eight girls will participate in workshops with renowned teachers and the contest judges.
Talent and dedication
Rigles said she was proud of the eight girls and said it had been a joy watching them grow.
“They have all trained in our school since they were very young, most since the age of 3. All of these dancers spend an average of 20 hours a week at ballet school. They are usually at the Classical Ballet Academy six to seven days a week. They are dedicated and talented,” she said.
The Lincoln Center event is “where every major international and national company comes to canvass and offer training scholarships as well as jobs. Everyone who is a future ballet star, as well as a current ballet star , are there,” Rigles said.
“For these eight young girls, this is a unique opportunity. Many of our dancers have received dance scholarships through YAGP, and that is the real purpose of participating. These girls are talented, young and ready to work hard,” she said.
Because the girls are so young, most of them haven’t had the opportunity to travel and they are all excited to get a taste of the “real world of ballet and be exposed to the best in the industry. I have no doubt that they will seize the opportunity and enjoy dancing among the best dancers in the world,” said Rigles.
Lichtenwalter has been involved in ballet since she was 3 years old and estimates that she spends 35 hours a week training in ballet, contemporary, jazz and tap at the studio.
What does she love most about ballet?
“I love choreography, performing and being on stage,” she said, adding that she hopes to have some sort of professional dancing career and hopes to attend an arts-based college.
Her mother, Lindsay Lichtenwalter, noted that Calla has a brother who also dances a little, among other activities, and described family life as a bit of a juggling act, “making sure both kids get the things they want. ‘they like.
“You constantly think about dancing, before you can make choices for the family, but it’s so worth it to be able to nurture a passion for your child,” she said.
And your Partridge
At age 2, when Partridge saw girls coming out of a ballet studio, she told her mother she wanted to go. Since then, she has been dancing and spending 35 hours a week training in contemporary, jazz and modern styles, in addition to ballet.
Are all those hours spent in the studio worth it?
“I love performances, and I love when I’m in pain; it’s a good feeling to know that I’ve worked really hard and to know that I’m probably getting better every day,” she said.
While she can’t wait to get to New York, Partridge said she was “excited to be able to play for all these amazing people that I’ve heard about so many times before.”
She added that she hopes to dance professionally in the future.
Although the family had to make some adjustments to support Etta’s ballet schedule, her mother, Janet Partridge, said she was so proud of her child.
“Every time I watch her dance, I am filled with pride. I’m so glad she can pursue her passion, and I’m glad she’s with a great group of girls who have been dancing together for a long time,” she added.
Like Lichtenwalter, Staczek has also been involved in ballet since the age of 3 and spends approximately 35 hours training in contemporary, jazz and modern dance styles, in addition to ballet.
What is she looking forward to the most in New York?
“Playing at the gala among other amazing artists, who might be an amazing person that I heard about,” she said.
She loves performing, adding, “After all the hard work, when I perform on stage is when I step into the role.”
She, too, hopes to have a career as a professional dancer, eventually joining a dance company after college.
Francine Staczek, Ruby’s mum, said all of the dance training is a ‘huge expense and a huge time commitment’, especially since her other daughter, Fiona, 15, is also a dancer at the school. Academy of Classical Ballet.
The dance takes “almost every night and almost every weekend, but it’s so beneficial for them. They are disciplined and love their teachers. I’m so happy they found something they love, and I would never take that away from them,” she said.
Although Portland audiences can no longer see any performances of “Gongfu,” which she choreographed, Rigles noted that every spring, the Classical Ballet Academy performs a full “story ballet.”
This year, “we are performing ‘Swan Lake’ at Lincoln Hall at Portland State University on May 16 and 17. The eight young women who are in ‘Gongfu’ are dancing different parts of ‘Swan Lake,'” added Rules.
Tickets are available at the PSU box office, 1825 SW Broadway. Call 503-725-3307 or email pdx.edu/boxoffice for more information.
Contact Sarah Rigles, Director, Classical Ballet Academy, 7970 SE Milwaukie Ave., Portland, by calling 503-890-6101 or visit the website at classicalballet.net.
The dancers attending the Youth America Grand Prix Final in New York City are: Natalie Cheechov, Winterhaven School, Portland; Annabel Kaplan, Winterhaven School, Portland; Calla Lichtenwalter, Clackamas Web Academy, Clackamas; Devin Lyon, Northwestern Academy, Portland; Etta Partridge, Alliance Charter Academy, Oregon City; Sophie Marcus, Northwestern Academy, Portland; Megan McEntee, Athey Creek, West Linn; and Ruby Staczek, Clackamas Web Academy, Clackamas.