Cary, NC – Cary Ballet Conservatory’s Mariaelena Ruiz was named this year’s Outstanding Teacher at the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest international competition for ballet students.
Outstanding Teacher Award
Ruiz holds multiple positions at the Cary Ballet Conservatory, located at NW Cary Parkway, including ballet master, the artistic director of the Cary Ballet Company and the director of the school’s professional training program.
She said the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) award was very unexpected and she is grateful to the people in the town who have supported her and the school.
“My approach is: I train the whole dancer. I approach them as a human being and as a potential professional dancer,” Ruiz said.
Even for students who will not go on to be professional ballet dancers, Ruiz said her instruction shows students how to be an educated audience when they see other ballet performers, and if they have a child who wants to pursue dance, those students will know what it takes to succeed.
Ruiz also said she teaches her students to have a level of respect for ballet and its lineage.
“This art form comes with hundreds of years of reputation and vocabulary,” Ruiz said. “If this is the art you choose, it comes with this responsibility.”
Grit and Passion
Ruiz has been a judge at the Youth America Grand Prix as far back as 2001 and several of her students have not only competed there but Ruiz was part of the documentary “First Position,” featuring the journey of ballet students competing at the grand prix, including two of Ruiz’s students, Sebastian Zamora and Michaela de Prince.
“The competition has grown to be this big dance network around the world,” she said.
Ruiz’s interest in ballet started when she was eight years old, growing up in Caracas, Venezuela. She was born with flat feet and her parents took her to a doctor.
“The doctor said I needed something to activate those muscles,” she said. “It was either gymnastics or ballet and I chose ballet.”
She was younger than many of her ballet classmates and ended up becoming a professional dancer at age 14. Ruiz told one story about going to the intermediate classes, several levels above her own pre-ballet classes, without anyone knowing.
“It’s a story I tell my students,” she said. “It taught me about the grit and passion that you need if you want to be a professional dancer.”
Her experiences in her own training, including both traveling around the world and meeting international dancers, taught her various dance styles and she said she integrated those into her work and helps pass that on to new students now.
The Cary Ballet Conservatory was also named a YAGP Outstanding School at this year’s competition, which it also received in 2017 and 2018. Cary Ballet Conservatory is located at 3791 NW Cary Pkwy.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Brooke Meyer, Courtesy of Dance Media LLC.