The Indianapolis International Ballet Competition Debuts

Before the curtain rises on the new contest, some of the young local dancers competing chatted with us about what a stretch the profession can be for a teenager.

Each fall, the Indianapolis City Ballet showcases the best dancers in the world at its blockbuster event, Evening with the Stars. On June 11–14, the group hopes to introduce the next generation. At the inaugural Indianapolis International Ballet Competition, held on Butler University’s campus, 180 young dancers will study under elites such as New York City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht and legendary American Ballet Theatre talent Susan Jaffe. After a few days of instruction, the students will perform and compete for scholarships. And while the hopefuls hail from around the globe, plenty of Hoosiers have tossed in their tiaras as well. Here, several competitors who have studied in Indy talk about nerves, inspiration, and sacrifice as they prepare to go toe-to-toe.


Misha Barkidjija, 13
Former Indianapolis City Ballet Master Class student

“Classes are the hardest part. Repeating the same series of movements over and over again—it just gets boring. But that’s how you become a better dancer. I train about 20 hours a week, and I’ve learned to use my time wisely. I typically stay up until 11 p.m. doing homework. So I can’t really hang out with friends. Outside of ballet, I haven’t spent time with anybody for about a year.”



0615_BALLET_OLIVIABEHRMANNOlivia Behrmann, 17
Student at Indiana Ballet Conservatory  

“The day of a competition, I like to warm up alone until it’s time to go onstage. I stretch, do sit-ups and ab work, and then run through my routine and try to memorize everything one last time. I used to get nervous, but it’s starting to get easier. Once you’re confident in your ability, you can just enjoy being onstage rather than worrying about messing up or forgetting something.”



Julia Rust, 14
Student at Indiana Ballet Conservatory

“The challenge of ballet is always striving for perfection but never actually reaching it. It’s you against yourself every day. Trying to be better than who you were yesterday. Lifting your leg higher, even if it’s just a little bit.”





0615_BALLET_LOGANVELASQUEZLogan Velasquez, 15
Former Indianapolis City Ballet Master Class student

“It’s hard to relate to friends outside of the dance studio. Most non-dancers think it’s a little crazy to have your career path planned out at 15. They don’t understand why I can’t miss a ballet class to go to a party or a sleepover. But dancers, they get that.”





0615_BALLET_MACKENZIEKURKMackenzie Kirk, 14
Student at Indianapolis School of Ballet

“In ballet, there’s always something to work on. You think you’re doing well, and then you see another dancer pull off something you can’t. But that can be inspiring, too. I can watch someone perform and think, Wow, that’s a really good extension. If they can do it, I can do it. Then I practice, and maybe I get there.”




Morgan Rust, 14
Student at Indiana Ballet Conservatory

“Sometimes I get really nervous before a show and feel like I’m about to cry. Other times, I’m actually excited to go onstage. It just depends on my mood. But when I’m in the classroom, everything is horrible—all I can see are the problems. When I’m finally onstage, I just enjoy it, and I don’t really think about the mistakes I’ve made.”




Leah Danek, 12
Student at Ballet Theatre of Carmel at Performer’s Edge

“When I step onstage, I go to this place in my mind. I just focus on my piece, and nothing distracts me. For some reason, during rehearsals, I have to think about smiling. But when I’m finally performing in front of an audience, I smile automatically. Ballet is such a hard thing that if you don’t love it, there’s no point.”




For more of Eduardo Torres’s stunning photos, visit our gallery of outtakes.