Florence youth earns high finish at world-famous dance competition


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Representing Florence Township’s Central NJ Ballet Theatre, township resident Sophia Szabo was awarded a top 12 finish at the world-renowned Philadelphia Youth America Grand Prix Dance Competition.

The competition, which ran from March 1-3, is the world’s largest dance network and dance education organization that aims to support and develop world-class dancers, ages 9-19, of all ethnic, economic, and geographic backgrounds by providing scholarship auditions, performance and education opportunities and serving as the global network of dance, connecting students, teachers, schools, dance companies, dancers, and audiences.

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As a fourth grade student at Riverfront Middle School, Szabo, who is 10 years old, competed in the precompetitive level at the event and the ensemble division with another CNJBT student, Kennedy Wolfe, 12, of Wrightstown.

In November of last year, Florence Township welcomed the Central NJ Ballet Theatre company’s newest location to the area.

The theater’s artistic director, Alisha Cardenas, is already establishing her place in the region as multiple students from the studio compete and/or participate in high honors events like the Youth America Grand Prix.

“I am very proud that Sophia’s training since she was three-years-old at CNJBT earned her that accomplishment,” Cardenas said. “I’m proud of all the dancers who competed, too.”

Last year, Cardenas said that Wolfe placed in the top 12 for the precompetitive level.  Cardenas noted that this year, Wolfe competed in the junior level along with Kayla Miller Keister, 13, of Hamilton and Mollie Ward, 14, of Princeton.

Along with Wolfe and Ward, Cardenas said that her students, Caitlyn Yang, 17, and Ashlynn Yang, 15, of Heightstown, and Shriya Varma, 18, of Bordentown, competed in the senior level.

Following Szabo’s high finish at this year’s competition, Cardenas expressed her praises for her student’s hard work accredited to her successful performance.

“Sophia is a dream student,” she said.  “She always gives 100 percent and never gives up. She is also very helpful as an assistant in the studio. You can tell she takes her training seriously – a beautiful person inside-and-out.”

Cardenas noted that Szabo’s accomplishments not only encompass her talents in preparing for the competition, but represent the effort and hard work of her staff at the studio location as well.

“It means we push our students to be the best dancers they can be,” she said. “It’s what separates the CNJBT from other local studios.”

The YAGP has awarded over $3,500,000 in scholarships to the world’s leading dance schools. More than 80,000 dancers have participated in YAGP’s workshops, scholarship auditions and master classes worldwide.

More than 450 YAGP alumni are currently dancing with 80 companies around the world, including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Washington Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, among others.

In 2010, YAGP became the subject of “First Position” – an award-winning documentary, which followed six YAGP participants on their journey to YAGP’s New York City Finals.

To identify promising young dance talent, YAGP conducts regional auditions in more than 20 cities in North America, and international auditions in countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, Mexico and Spain.

Youth America Grand Prix celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2019, culminating in the 20th Anniversary Gala: “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow,” which is being held on April 18-19 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Cardenas said that the studio is currently working on its ballet, “The Sleeping Beauty” to be performed on June 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Villa Victoria Academy Theater.

The Central NJ Ballet Theatre is located at 221 Broad St. in Florence. The studio offers a variety of dance classes, summer camps for all ages and levels.

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