TAMPA, Fla. — The largest ballet dance competition in the world is taking place in Tampa this week.
After decades in New York, the Youth America Grand Prix was in jeopardy due to the pandemic. That's when the Straz offered to open up their own curtains for these talented dancers.
More than 800 ballerinas from across the country are competing.
"It is a dream come true," said 14-year-old Yana Peneva of Orlando.
Peneva has stretched countless times before taking the stage, but this time it's different. More than $400,000 in scholarship money will be awarded to the best dancers.
"It would be such an honor to get a scholarship from any of the amazing schools at YAGP," said Peneva.
"Open a door for a student and let them walkthrough, and that's what we do; we open those doors," said Rebecca King, with Youth America Grand Prix.
Representatives from schools and professional dance companies all over the world are watching online.
"Every school, every company, is looking for something different, some want taller, some want smaller, some want real powerhouses, some want real soft, and it also depends on what they need that year," said King.
Dancers range in age from nine to nineteen. For Styles Dykes of Rochester, NY, this is his final year competing. He understands it could be his last real opportunity to turn ballet into a career.
"There are so many talented dancers here, and there are so many people here that want the same thing you want, so you have to work extra hard and put in the extra energy and time to show how bad you really want it," said Dykes.
For most of these dancers, just being here is an accomplishment, considering how many rehearsals and performances were canceled over the past year.
"They've been dancing at home and in their living room and their garages, and they've fought through it, and they've come out the other side," said King.
As for the new host city, Tampa is getting a lot of praise from all the out-of-town visitors so far.
"It is very nice, and there is always a breeze, and I've also gotten to go to the pool and the beach, so it's been a joy being in Tampa," said 11-year-old Eric Poor of Fairfax, VA.
The best of the best from the competition will be performing this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Straz in the Season Finale Gala. Tickets are on sale to the general public. For more information, go to www.yagp.org.