TAMPA, Fla. — Hundreds of the most promising young dancers are at the Straz Center in Tampa for the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition – the Youth America Grand Prix National Season Finals. This weekend is also a special homecoming for one dancer who is from the Tampa Bay area, competed at this competition several years ago and is now performing with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world.
“That was the competition that propelled me in front of judges and dancers all over the world,” said Calvin Royal III.
Royal grew up in the Tampa Bay area and is now a principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York. He started training at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg and was noticed at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) back in 2006.
“To be able to come back and be part of YAGP in this way … it just kind of feels like a full-circle moment for me,” said Royal.
Since joining ABT, Royal has made history with the company through performing with Misty Copeland. They became the first Black couple to perform lead roles for ABT in 2019.
“To be able to step on stage as two black dancers with ABT – one of the most premier ballet companies in the world – it was life-changing,” said Royal. He is proof of what can come of the finals happening at the Straz Center.
“We take children and are able to connect them with schools and companies,” said Rebecca King, YAGP’s International Coordinator.
King also came up through YAGP and is still a professional dancer thanks to the organization.
“I think it is really important to show these children from small areas where maybe they wouldn’t have such possibilities or maybe they don’t have the finances that they can travel around the world and be seen,” said King.
Major company directors are watching nearly 800 of the most promising dancers in the country this week and weekend. They are ready to award scholarships to their programs and find young dancers (like Royal) to help them leap into the career of their dreams.
“To be able to do what I love at the highest level and to be able to make history together was really more than I could have ever dreamed of,” said Royal.
Organizers tell ABC Action News they were able to hold the event in-person this year due to strict COVID-19 protocols, like testing and face mask requirements.
If you would like to watch the Finals online, click here.