Dancer heads to finals in world competition

What does a ballerina do this time of year besides dance in The Nutcracker?

If you are Katherine Higgins, you do that and win the European semifinal of the largest student ballet and scholarship competition in the world.

The Wilton native recently cleared that hurdle in Paris last month at the Youth America Grand Prix Competition and will dance in the finals in New York City in April.

“When they called my name for the Grand Prix, I couldn’t believe it,” Katherine said in an email to The Bulletin.

She began preparing for the competition three months earlier, practicing three variations — two classical and one contemporary.

“After I competed I felt a little unsure,” she said. “I did not feel that I had performed my best technically, and so my expectations and hopes for a prize were very low.”

Clearly, the judges felt differently.

“I am so incredibly honored to have received it,” she said of her first-place prize. “But medals are not the only prizes in YAGP. While at the competition, I was able to take classes from teachers who direct some of the most important ballet schools in America and Europe. I had the chance to meet new people, see new faces, and for people to see me.

“Every competition is a wonderful opportunity to be seen and to project yourself into the ballet world, and at YAGP, there are many scholarship presenters present. I received three scholarships, and now have some links to what my future might bring. I am so lucky to have had this experience, and am extremely grateful for this honor.

Since September 2011, Katherine, 16, has lived in Belgium while she studies at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp. According to her mother, Mary Bozutti Higgins, she is fluent in Dutch and lives with a host family.

Her day consists of academics every morning from 8 to noon — with classes taught in Dutch — followed by dance classes from 1 to 7 p.m., her mother said.

Katherine chose to go to Antwerp primarily because Michael Shannon, her principal teacher from the time she was 12 to 14, had just become artistic director of the school, she said.

The school offered her a full scholarship and after visiting, she said, “I knew it was the place for me.

“Of course I miss home and my family like crazy, and every day is hard, but I live to dance, and this is what I want to do.”

After her success at YAGP in November, Katherine returned to Belgium, where she danced the role of Clara in a newly choreographed version of The Nutcracker by Mr. Shannon. She was especially happy to perform, she said, because her mother and grandmother were in the audience.

Now Katherine is preparing for the YAGP finals in New York in April, and then she will compete in the Moscow International Ballet Competition in June.

That performance is special, she said, because Moscow is one of the most important “ballet cities” in the world.

“Winning a prize in Moscow is a huge honor, and something I dream about,” she said in her email. “I can’t wait to see Russia and experience this competition. I think it will be magical.”

Katherine’s journey as a ballerina began at the Wilton Dance Studio, where she danced from age 3 to 13, after which she spent two years at the Greenwich Ballet Academy.

Katherine will graduate from the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp next year, after which, she said, “my life begins.” She hopes to embark on a career as a professional dancer.

“This has been my dream since I was 3, and it is so exciting and wonderful to have gotten to where I am today,” she said. “I still have an unbelievably far way to go, but I can’t wait to experience that. Dancing is my passion, my dream, my hope, and my life. Dance is a part of me.”