Naperville Central students finalists in international ballet competition

Ballet Dancers, Anjuli Paul (left), and Lucy Shultz (right).
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“If you don’t know anything about ballet, it’s not about the technique that you know, it’s about how it makes you feel,” said 16-year-old Anjuli Paul.

Anjuli’s mastery of all things ballet has paid off. She and Lucy Shultz, both juniors at Naperville Central High School, were recently selected as senior soloist finalists in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) international ballet competition, held in Tampa, Florida, in April.

What is the YAGP?

The YAGP is the world’s largest non-profit student ballet competition and scholarship program for aspiring ballet dancers. Anjuli and Lucy were two of just 187 young women from 39 countries invited to compete.

“I was very excited. It’s a very big opportunity to be able to attend these finals, and I was also invited as a soloist last year, so I was able to go there last year. So knowing that I had a second opportunity to be able to go was super exciting to have that opportunity to perform just with so many other talented dancers,” said Anjuli.

“My goal going into this season was to place Top 12 Classical at semi-finals, so qualifying for finals was beyond my expectations and very exciting,” said Lucy.

Both also received scholarships to the Kansas City Ballet School. And Lucy got an offer to become a trainee for the Oklahoma City Ballet next season.

Years of training pays off

The rewards were well earned after years of dedication and hard work.

“I was four years old when I first started dancing, and I at first was just taking one class a week …and the thing that got me interested in dance in the first place, is I just always was running around the house in my ballet costumes when I was younger so I really enjoyed being able to do that in class,” said Anjuli.

“As a kid, I’m told I was always dancing around the house to let my energy out, and my parents decided it would be a good idea to put me in dance class. I started with a creative movement class at age 3 and I haven’t stopped dancing since,” said Lucy.

Yet, what continues to drive the two ballet dancers aren’t medals and honors but the ability to convey emotion through movement.

“When I’m dancing, I am focusing so much on the movement and the story that everything else is essentially blocked out of my mind,” said Lucy.

“Ballet has always provided a space for me to be able to express myself, and I would say, for most of the part, I’m a pretty introverted person. So being able to express myself in a way that isn’t verbal and in a way that seems so natural to me is really great and something that I always come back to,” said Anjuni.

Bright futures ahead for both

Anjuli practices at the Academy of Dance Arts in Naperville, while Lucy attends the Hinsdale Dance Academy.

For her senior year, Anjuli will leave Naperville Central to attend Walnut Hill, a prestigious fine arts school in Boston.

“I’m really excited to meet other arts students. It’s not just dancers. They also have visual artists, musicians and writers, and theater students. So I’m really excited to meet other art students and be in that environment with a lot of other creative people,” said Anjuli.

Though both have big plans in the field, it’s their pure love of dance that drives them forward.

“It seems like it would be so difficult and so stressful, and it is a lot of hard work. But at the same time, there’s this other feeling where you get into the zone, and it’s this feeling of just being so light and so free, and it’s just an amazing feeling,” said Anjuli.

“As a ballet dancer, I am given the opportunity to “become the art” and use my body in the same way that a musician uses their instrument. I also very much enjoy the strong and supportive ballet community and getting to dance alongside people I consider family,” said Lucy.

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