Dancers from the Park City Dance Academy, from left, Alta Tabar, Hayden Manninen, Isabelle Demschar, Sissy Saarela, Sawyer Player and Montana Tabar, made
Dancers from the Park City Dance Academy, from left, Alta Tabar, Hayden Manninen, Isabelle Demschar, Sissy Saarela, Sawyer Player and Montana Tabar, made their debut at the Youth America Grand Prix semifinals two weekends ago. They performed two works each and returned with a new perspective on dance. Not pictured Ella Vroegh. (Photo by Christopher Reeves/The Park Record)
Park City Dance Academy, headed by Trish Ryland and Sandy Flury, is know for its annual "Nutcracker" production in Park City.

It has also performed at the Egyptian Theatre, Rice Eccles Stadium, the Festival of Trees and has opened for the Radio City Rocketts.

The academy added a new chapter when it sent seven young dancers to the Youth America Grand Prix semifinals in San Francisco, Calif., last month.

The Youth American Grand Prix in New York is known as the world's largest student ballet competition. The top dancers will be selected from the semifinals, which were held in various cities around the country, and will head to New York in April for the finals.

Regardless of if they are selected or not, the dancers — Isabelle Demschar, 15, Alta Tabar, 11, Montana Tabar, 14, Hayden Manninen, 13, Sawyer Player, 15, Sissy Saarela, 15 and Ella Vroegh, 15, were honored to have the opportunity to compete.

"We are thankful for our teachers and Trish and Sandy because they provided us with this opportunity, Saarela said during a group interview with The Park Record. "We are also appreciative to our parents for their support."

The journey to the semifinals started last July when the dancers were selected for the excursion.

Each had to prepare two pieces, one classical and one contemporary, and worked with choreographers Juliana Martin and Sara Judd.


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While Martin set the classical works, Judd prepared the contemporary pieces.

"The Grand Prix has a list of specified classical variations from which our teachers had to choose and, during the competition, we would see many of the same variations," Ryland said. "The contemporary works, however, were all choreographed by Sara. All the works were brand-new and set specifically for the dancers."

In addition to the regular academy classes, the selected dancers participated in additional sessions to refine the pieces.

"We did solo rehearsals and learned a lot of steps, and it got more intense as the time went on," Demschar explained. "I think we were happy and lucky that we were chosen to go, because there are a lot of girls who take dance at this studio."

Alta Tabar, who was named among the Top 12 dancers of the competition, said working with two chorographers was inspirational.

"They made it really fun and interesting so we wanted to keep going and do our best," Tabar said. "It was fun performing on stage and seeing all the other amazing dancers from around the world."

Tabar's older sister Montana said competition dancing presented more challenges than performance dancing.

"We really had to show a lot of emotions during the Grand Prix, and we would have to focus on a story while we were dancing to get those emotions out," she said. "It really meant a lot because it was such a great experience and it made us want to perform to our highest abilities."

The group returned from the competition with a new perspective about ballet.

"Throughout the process, we learned more about ballet than we ever knew," Manninen said. "We learned about character, and how to really work with pointe shoes. It was so beneficial to us, and we got to understand a little better what the ballet world is about."

Player said she was nervous when she and her friends arrived in California.

"I thought we were all going to be intimidated by the other dancers," she said. "The misconception of a dance competition is that it's really grueling and the girls are cutthroat and nasty."

Player was surprised at how everyone she met was supportive and inspiring.

"I came back very motivated to work harder on the things I learned what I needed to improve," she said. "I also came back with more confidence, because the experience showed us that we have more potential than we thought we did and that we can measure up to the other dancers."

Watching the other dancers was Saarela's favorite part.

"We could see what they did and learn from them," she said. "Also, working with our amazing teachers was a huge learning experience for me personally and now I have new goals for my ballet career."

Ryland said the experience has brought her dancers closer.

"The sisterhood that has developed within this group is remarkable," she said. "They sacrificed their time and finances to get there, but in the process, they have created this amazing and unbreakable sisterhood. And they saw a similar closeness within the other groups."

The group would like to attend again next year, but in the meanwhile are content to wait for their final scores.

"We don't know their totals, yet," Ryland said. "But regardless, I am proud of these girls."

For more information about Park City Dance Academy, visit www.parkcitydance.com.