CARY, N.C. — One North Carolina teenager is headed to what some call the “Olympics of the ballet world.”

Sydney Upchurch is one of 81 dancers to be selected to attend the Prix de Lausanne, an international competition in Switzerland, at the end of January.


What You Need To Know

Sydney Upchurch is a 15-year-old from Clayton and has been dancing for about five years

She is one of 81 dancers selected for an international ballet competition in Switzerland

The Prix de Lausanne begins on January 31 and Upchurch’s family is fundraising for the trip


“My dream as a dancer is to have an amazing career and dance at Royal Ballet,” Upchurch said. “I did want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon for a really long time.”

Upchurch spends almost 30 hours a week in ballet shoes.

“Sometimes my feet can hurt though, but I love doing my variations and stuff so I get excited,” Upchurch said. “It's just something I feel like I was meant to do. I love it so much. Dancing for an audience and making other people smile makes me really happy and performing, it's just a really great feeling.”

She’s a student at the Cary Ballet Conservatory and has only been dancing for about five years.

“When I first came here, I needed a lot of work on my technique and on my upper body artistry and just relaxing. Looking back on it, I feel like I've definitely improved a lot, so I'm very happy with the progress right now,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch says she’s very focused when she’s training.

“Honestly I feel like I most enjoy how hard it is. There's no such thing as perfect, so you're just always all the time just trying to improve and improve. I just love the work that you have to put in for it. It just feels so good to know you have improved too. To look back and see. It’s just so fun. I also really love the acting of it,” Upchurch said. “I really do like jumping. Just the feeling of floating in the air.”

Mariaelena Ruiz is the director of the professional training program at the Cary Ballet Conservatory and has worked with Upchurch for about three years.

Ruiz says Upchurch’s commitment to ballet plays a big role in how quickly she has improved.

“Amazing just because of her hard work and dedication. She’s always had a goal and you can see it in her work ethic,” Ruiz said.

Upchurch’s passion is about to pay off because she is one of 81 dancers selected for the Prix de Lausanne.

“It was like five o'clock in the morning, and I woke up to an email about it, and I was so excited. The first thing I did was I told my mom and took a screenshot of the email and sent it to my teachers. I was very excited,” Upchurch said. “I'm a little nervous because it is a really big deal, but I think I'm more excited than nervous.

“It's a week long and there's many different classes that are held, there's many coaching sessions. There's a final round for all the finalists who make it and there's so many scholarship offers down there and there's so many people there that are so famous and so good in the ballet world and so many directors and it's a really good experience.”

It’s a rare opportunity that could help launch her professional career.

“She has very high goals, and I think being at this competition she will be able to put the cards on the table and decide what her path is going to be because every major school and every major company in the world is going to be there, so there will be a lot of opportunities for her,” Ruiz said. “As a school, as a program, as a director, I’m very proud that she’s going to be representing us there.

“We tell our dancers and our families, we want to train fantastic dancers, but it’s very important to us they are great human beings first. She has all those things and we are very proud of her.”

On days when she doesn’t feel like training, Upchurch says she reminds herself of how far she has come because beyond the tutus and pointe shoes she says ballet has already made a lasting impact on the way she looks at life.

“You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. Put in the work for it and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s room out there for everyone, so don't compare yourself to anyone. Just be yourself because that's really important,” Upchurch said. “I've definitely learned to never give up, and if you want something you just need to work for it, and things will come your way. It's very important to know that and to not give up on your dreams because good things will come, and they will happen.”

Upchurch’s parents have created a GoFundMe page to help fundraise for the trip to Switzerland.

Upchurch will be performing as one of the sugarplum’s in the Cary Ballet Company’s Nutcracker show this year. The show runs from December 17-19. Ticket sales help fund the Cary Ballet Company’s programming and scholarships, as it is a nonprofit organization.

According to the Prix de Lausanne’s website, Upchurch is not the only North Carolinian selected for this competition. Jett Lecamu, who attends the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, is also selected for the international competition.