IRVINE -- After an unprecedented and challenging year, ballet dancers take the stage competing in "The Olympics" of ballet.
Dozens of young students, ranging from ages 10 to 19, auditioned at the Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA for the Youth America Grand Prix 22nd Season 2021 Reginal Semi-Finals in hopes of winning top awards.
"It's been so hopeful and inspiring to see their persistence and resilience through these times," said YAGP chair, Christina Lyon.
By following state guidelines, organizers say health and safety remain a top priority and are keeping the dance stage open with socially distanced auditions and audiences watching virtually.
"Most dancers are used to having the applause and kind of that energy that you feel in a theater. They're unable to feel that. So, it's a unique experience," Lyon told Localish.
With theaters shut, organizers say it's a massive accomplishment for making auditions a reality amid a global pandemic and describe it as an emotional experience to see dancers retake the stage.
"It's been like over a year since I performed on stage," said 14-year-old dance student Natalie Steele attending Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy. "I want to thank YAGP for these amazing opportunities in the midst of these chaotic times for the arts. It's just really amazing, and I'm really grateful to all of them," Steele added.
In the pre-competitive division, future ballet star and youngest dancer in the audition, Afina Gosla, says she's learned to keep performance jitters off stage.
"When you come on stage, you feel this really happiness," said 10-year-old Gosla, a student dancer at Southland Ballet Academy. "And when you perform, it feels really good,"
As the largest student dance organization in the world, the Youth America Grand Prix represents about 12,000 students who participate in 25 cities across the U.S. and eight countries internationally.
Finalists will move on to the YAGP 2021 Season Finals in Tampa, Florida in May for a chance to win scholarship awards to top schools and companies.