SAN DIEGO — Winning isn't everything. It's what you learn from playing the game.
That just about sums up the maxim Maxine Mahon of the California Ballet instilled in students Jennifer Curry and Karla Navarrete, both 17, and 16-year-old Amanda Curtis before whisking them off to the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss.
"I never expected them to win," Mahon said upon her return to San Diego with her three young charges. "They're too young and inexperienced."
The prestigious International Ballet Competition is the dance equivalent of the Olympics. It was at one of these events that 17-year-old Mikhail Baryshnikov stunned the dance world with his bravura performance and captured top honors in 1966--skipping over his age group to compete as a senior.
This year's competition ran June 15-28. Prizes totaling $10,000 were awarded in more than two dozen categories.
Curry and Curtis made the U.S. team but were eliminated after the first round, when 87 contestants were pared down to 30. Navarrete didn't make it that far.
"I wasn't really expecting to win," Curtis said. "But just by watching everybody, I learned so much. It was the ultimate--a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
For Curry, who competed with an injury--for which she just underwent surgery--the weeks in Jackson provided a strong dose of reality as well.
"I realize there are a lot of good dancers out there, and if I want to get somewhere, I'll have to really work at it," she said. "While I was in Jackson, I watched every performance, and I learned as much as I could."
Navarrete admits to feeling a few pangs of disappointment. "I took it pretty hard for a day or two, but then I got over it and looked at the positive side," she said. "I went with the attitude that I wouldn't get a gold or silver (medal). The most important thing was the incredible experience. Just to be there and watch some of the greatest dancers really opened my eyes.
"I had an idea about what it's really like, but you have to see it for yourself to believe how many good dancers there are. I really, really want to go back--and I just want to get past the preliminaries."
The biggest benefit of the event had nothing to do with competition.
"They took classes with teachers from all over the world," Mahon said. "Sophia Golovkina (a former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet); Ferenc Havas, a highly respected teacher from Hungary, and other greats all taught classes. And these kids watched every day as dancers from about 30 countries performed. It was almost a seminar as well as a competition."
The international competition attracted dancers from at least 30 countries. San Diego's three entries equaled New York City's and exceeded Los Angeles' by two.