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Competition Success – Lessons to be learned from Cory Stearns

by Marian Horosko
January 15, 2009
New York, NY
Cory Stearns has now been promoted to soloist rank with American Ballet Theatre. He is an example of how a talented young American dancer can quickly make his way from winning at a national competition (Youth America Grand Prix, 2004) to scholarship and graduation at a world-renown academy, The Royal Ballet School in London. He was then accepted for his first professional experience into ABT's affiliate, ABT II, advanced to the major company and in record time, then become a soloist. Next step, becoming a principal. Bravo.

Long-Island born Stearns began his study of ballet as a student of Valia Seiskaya of Seiskaya Ballet, who was a ballerina in the Greek Theater and Ballet for more than 17 years. Five dancers in ABT's roster have been her students.

The pattern is clear for a talented young American: Find a teacher who comes from an accredited pedagogy in a recognized methodology (Russian, Danish, Cuban, French, Italian or English); Enter a major competition such as Youth America Grand Prix, Prix de Lausanne or New York International Ballet Competition or any European international competition that will give you a scholarship to an academy anywhere in the world, where one of these pedagogical methods is in the curriculum; Graduate having learned the progression of the method, which may or may not be the methodology in which you first studied dance, then accept a contract from an artistic director, who has seen you perform at one of the competition rounds or at a gala, into a "junior" or II company of a major or regional group, in another country or in the U.S, in order to experience being part of the working life of a professional; Progress by dancing whatever role you are given to become a soloist, then a principal dancer.

Sound easy? There are pitfalls: Few American teachers are accredited by a recognized 8-year academy that teaches pedagogy. You wouldn't use the services of a barber or pedicurist who doesn't have a "do no harm" state license on the wall, yet parents frequently entrust their children to a local teacher because of the convenient location of the school, number of award cups in the studio from local or national competitions, or because one of the teachers was a professional dancer. A former professional dancer does not know how to teach, only how they were taught. Don't be impressed by a "famous" or well-known name. They will only teach as they were taught unless they took the accredited 4-8 year course in pedagogy as in European post-dance academies. (There are some short seminars in various methodologies available to teachers in the U.S). It is a lamentable condition. Ah, well. When will we have state or national accreditation for dance teachers?

A good teacher, in whatever methodology, will pass a talented student along to bigger challenges.

Stearns, who won a Youth America Grand Prix scholarship to The Royal Ballet School in London, toured with the company, was graduated from the school twice receiving the Dame Ruth Railton Award for excellence.
And now, his chances to become a principal dancer increase.

One of the big and generous international competitions is coming up: The 25th New York International Ballet Competition, June 8 - 28, 2009. According to founder, Ilona Copen: "Our most important goals are education and artistry. Dancers who are invited to participate as our guests are given daily class as a group and are all taught three pas de deuxs during the first two weeks of their stay. Class and repertoire are taught by world- renowned teachers and coaches giving the dancers an opportunity to work together, to learn together and to grow as artists. During the third week of NYIBC, all dancers perform the specific competition repertory they had learned upon arrival in New York." These performances are held at the Rose Theater at the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle.
For more information-mailnyibc@nyibc.org. or www.nyibc.org.
Cory Stearns in ABT's 'Le Corsaire'

Cory Stearns in ABT's "Le Corsaire"

Photo © & courtesy of Marty Sohl

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