DANCING TOWARD THEIR DREAMS
Children have dreams, that’s something we can say with certainty. Some dream of being a teacher, or a doctor, or an NFL football player. Some dream about becoming a vet or traveling the world. A popular one among young girls is to be a beautiful ballerina, twirling around the stage in a glittering tutu and tiara, adored by an audience of thousands.
For a very select group of local children, this is more than just a dream. After years of training and hundreds of hours in the dance studio, this dream will become their reality.
At the Rage Box Contemporary Dance Center in Forest Hill, owned and directed by Karen Muccioli, a select group of young dancers prepare to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition. Not only are they one of just five dance schools attending from all of Maryland, they are the only school representing Harford County at YAGP’s Philadelphia Regional where they will compete against hundreds of dancers from as far away as New York, Connecticut, Ohio and even Europe and the Caribbean.
YAGP is the largest student- based ballet competition in the world, taking place in dozens of countries and US cities each year where young dancers compete for prizes, scholarships, professional contracts, modeling jobs and more. Dancers train for years in preparation for this event, which awards only the top elite performers. Former YAGP competitors can be found in almost every major ballet company in world, as well as popular TV shows, movies and magazines, many of whom were noticed for the first time on YAGP’s stage.
If any studio can handle this challenge, it would be Rage Box. As one of Harford County’s largest dance programs, the studio regularly produces strong, well- rounded dancers who often earn college scholarships and professional contracts. Past graduates can be found working in the NYC and LA markets and even in Cirque du Soleil.
“We are so proud of our ballet program at The Rage Box. Our philosophy has always been to offer a contemporary program with a solid classical foundation. Our dancers are technically sound, professional, and ready for the challenge that this prestigious ballet competition has to offer,” says Karen Muccioli, Director of the program.
The students chosen for YAGP are overseen by Rage Box faculty member Kathryn Jacques, and they must commit to an rigorous year of training including 6-12 hours of ballet each week, private coaching, ensemble rehearsals, extra performances and more, in addition to their other dance genres and regular academic load. Many even chose to attend additional ballet programs in the DC and Pennsylvania areas to further their training. Out of almost 400 students in Rage Box’s sought-after program, only 13 dancers between the ages of 10 and 14 have been selected to attend YAGP as part of an ensemble piece, and only 7 of those will achieve the dream of stepping onstage to perform a solo like a true ballerina.
“Being the only school to represent Harford County at the Philadelphia Regional does add some pressure to an already intense process,” Kathryn Jacques says. “Most of these girls have worked hard for years just to see their name on the cast list. And it gets harder from there. They’ll be judged on the point of their feet, the height of their jumps and leg extensions, the individuality they bring to a centuries’ old classical solo. They’re getting corrections on how to hold their pinkie finger and what sort of smile to display. Every minute detail is important.”
“It overjoys me to work with students who want to excel in their technical training to better advance the artistry of their work,” says faculty member Danielle Sten- Guillermo, a former assistant choreographer for various Disney films and So You Think You Can Dance and one of the co- founders of On the DL. “Their contemporary voice is stronger because of the work they put into their ballet training, and that is rewarding enough for me as their educator.” She has chosen two of the most advanced dancers to compete with contemporary solos, yet another added commitment for these dedicated and focused students.
In the end, the dancers know they are competing against hundreds of the best the north-east region has to offer, and there are only a handful of awards available. But they aren’t doing it for the trophy or even the scholarship or future job offer, though all of those things are in the back of their minds. They’re doing it because they love ballet, they want to become a better dancer, have more confidence and become both physically and mentally stronger, all while participating in an opportunity like no other. And they know they’ll have a chance most children only dream of. For a few minutes at YAGP, they get to shine on stage as a beautiful ballerina. That’s worth more than dozens of trophies.
Students: Hailey Buerhaus (10), Abby Cardella (13), Mikayla Cardella (10), Jillian Hanover (11), Abby Jump (11), Sarah Jump (13), Madison Kelly (14), Vanessa Labbee (12), Courtney Lisiewski (11), Madeline Orsi (10), Amanda Poling (11), Emma Snyder (13), Ryleigh Stockson (12)