It’s a week before the 2014 Youth America Grand Prix semifinals in Atlanta, the world’s largest pre-professional dance competition. That means Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez, former professional dancers and husband-and-wife co-owners of Sarasota Cuban Ballet, are feeling the pressure.
Last year, they sent three of their pre-professional students to the competition: their son Francisco Serrano, Allie Burman and Adriana Baez. All three made it to the finals in New York City. This year, they are taking six students to the Feb. 21-22 competition. Serrrano and Baez will return, with newcomers Lenin Valladares, Emma Town, Gabriella Stilo and Cecilia Hitchcock. Plus, they’ve got a lot of other news.
“That’s why I’m a little …” Serrano says, making a crazed facial expression and moving his hands frantically above his head in a nervous-but-proud parent type of way. “But, they’re ready.”
Each student will dance two classical and one contemporary variation. They’ve been practicing them five hours daily since the beginning of January. That’s dedication for the 14- to 17-year-old students.
Each student goes through his or her variation for the Sarasota Cuban Ballet school faculty, who then give the student a few notes. A week before competition, the dancers’ routines are polished.
Town, 17, finishes her variation.
“How do you feel?” Serrano asks her.
“Good,” Town says.
“You should feel like a million bucks,” Serrano says. He’s impressed with her control; he tells her to be proud of her accomplishment.
Baez, 17, finishes her variation. She looks a little frustrated and explains that she didn’t perform as perfectly as she wanted. But Serrano is still proud.
“These kids are a little too hard on themselves sometimes,” he says. He reassures the whole group following the rehearsal. You can see them shake off the tension. He tells them to smile more — he’s already proud of their accomplishments.
The finals are in April in New York City. But YAPG isn’t the only thing making this year exciting. From April 20 through April 27, the faculty is taking the students on a trip to Cuba. It’s a nice reward for all their hard work.
The students will take classes with the National Ballet School of Cuba as part of a cultural exchange program. And then in June for the school’s Summer Intensive, Cuba will come to them. Ramona de Saa, director of the National Ballet School of Cuba, and three of her students will come for the Summer Intensive. Saa taught Serrano to dance, and she’s never traveled to the United States.
“It’s big news!” he says. And it’s surely not the only big news to come.
See more photos of the students here.