My name is Lily Sawickij, and I am 10 years old. I am located in New Jersey. My studio is ACBT The Performing Arts Academy.
Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
When I was 3-years-old, I watched Dora's Ice Skating Spectacular. I told my mom I wanted to try figure skating, and she suggested I start with ballet first to see if I liked it. I took my first dance class and loved it! The recital was the best part. I lit up on stage, and I had the best time dancing under the lights in front of an audience.
After my first year of dance, my mom brought me to ACBT, The Performing Arts Academy, so I could take more ballet classes. That year I had the opportunity to perform in my first Nutcracker with the Atlantic City Ballet as a mouse. It was so much fun! My ballet school was my favorite place to be, and I took every class I could. When I was 7-years-old, I began to work on partnering with one of my best friends. We still dance together today and have grown so much together.
When I was 8-years-old, the founding director of my school and the Atlantic City Ballet, Phyllis Papa, suggested I start homeschooling so I could take morning privates and semi-privates. I was so happy my mom said yes! I was able to dance in the morning, do my school work, play, and then go back to dance and see my ballet friends. I liked it so much more than being in regular school, and I progressed so much. I began learning real variations and working toward eventually competing. I was really excited to have more opportunities to get to be on stage and wear real tutus. I was only able to compete once before everything shut down from COVID. But I received first overall at the competition in the hardest difficulty and got to be in the local newspaper.
At 9-years-old, I was honored to be cast as the youngest Clara ever in the Atlantic City Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. It was a dream come true! I worked hard to learn the part in just a few weeks since we had a late start due to COVID, but I was very determined!
I was finally able to start competing in 2021. I took as many privates as I could, and even all of the lower-level classes at my ballet school to prepare. I attended my first Youth America Grand Prix in Philadelphia and placed in the Top 12 with my Classical Variation from Fairy Doll. It was such an awesome experience to see so many talented dancers performing! At the Universal Ballet Competition, my contemporary solo, Wings of Freedom, choreographed by Phyllis Papa, was in 3rd place! My variation from Fairy Doll was 4th place Classical. The most special part was that my partner and I were able to finally perform the Nutcracker Grand Pas that we had been working on since January. We were in first place! It felt so good to achieve that with my friend. It was a really difficult and long dance for our ages, but we focused and spent as much time with Ms. Papa as we could to improve.
Throughout this year, I have won multiple regional titles and 1st overalls. I won a National Title for On Point dance competition in Virginia Beach with my contemporary solo and was the first runner-up at another.
Next year, with COVID restrictions being lifted, I will be able to travel to more ballet competitions around the country. I can't wait!!! I love performing more than anything! I am thrilled to start learning new choreography. I improved so much this year under Ms. Papa's training, and I am really excited for what the future holds!
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Some things have been a challenge for me, but I've been determined not to let those challenges get in my way.
COVID was really difficult for everyone in the performing arts. It was incredibly disappointing for me. I was supposed to attend my first UBC, which would have been my very first time traveling and going on an airplane or staying in a hotel, and it was canceled at the last minute. I was so sad. I'd bought a suitcase and was all set and ready to go! I understood that we needed to be safe, but it was sad to miss out on going away.
Things didn't improve when summer came, and I had to face more disappointment. I had been accepted into the summer programs for ABT New York, Bolshoi, The Rock School, and Joffrey. I had been looking forward to going away for the summer and traveling around the USA to new places. I was especially excited to get to spend time in NYC. It hurt my heart to have to take all of my classes virtually in my living room. I really wanted to meet the other students and make new friends that loved ballet as much as I do. I was so excited to go out on adventures with the other children.
In the face of disappointment, I poured myself into my training. I took 4 online intensives and as many privates as I could. I refused to let COVID stop me.
What personal limitations if any did you go through in your young career?
I have to be very mindful of my turnout. I also have very small feet. So finding pointe shoes that fit me properly has been a challenge - especially during the pandemic.
Has anybody ever tried to limit you on what you could do? If so how did you fight it?
Some people had negative opinions about my family and me when they found out that I was going to be homeschooled so I could train more. It was hurtful because their opinions downplayed the value of the career I'm pursuing. I focused on the fact that my family and teachers support me and love me. They know me better than anyone else, and I know they want me to be happy. Other people that say I shouldn't take the classes I do, don't really know me or understand what makes me tick. I am so much happier in dance class and doing my schoolwork online than I was in my old brick-and-mortar school.
How do you conquer negative talk?
This year I had to deal with bullying and comments that attempted to invalidate my accomplishments and hurt me. I was called very ugly names and mocked.
When things were said to my face, I blew it off. My parents were really proud of my maturity. Even though the things said were meant to be hurtful and embarrassing, I knew they weren't true. I knew that I worked extremely hard every single day and that what I'd accomplished was valid. No mean comments were going to change that.
Some things helped me through this time. One was that the adults close to me reminded me that there are lots of people all around the world dealing with the same things and that I was not alone. They told me that jealousy was inevitable when someone is successful, but never let it dull your shine. Most importantly, I learned that I never want to be on the other side and treat someone else badly because they accomplish something great. I know how it feels, and I never want to make someone else feel that way. There are enough wonderful things in life to go around! If I could advise someone else, I would tell them that everyone gets to do special things - they just might not be the same thing as another person, and that's okay!
What is your favorite quote?
"One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching." - Gerard Way
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
So much!!!! This week I get to start learning my dances for next season, and I am so excited! I will get to have two new dances with my partner this year, and I can't wait for them to hit the stage! We will be traveling all over the USA, and I will finally get to go on airplanes and use my suitcase! I'll be attending a lot of ballet competitions, and I'll finally get to meet so many of the long-distance friends I've made on social media. We will get to have an audience for Nutcracker and dance at different theaters!
I think this year is going to be the best one yet!