In Department of Dance, Students, Study Abroad

After only five years of ballet training, Montana Shugars adds international experience to her list of achievements

Shugars receiving her certificate of completion from the week at La Scala. Photo courtesy of Montana Shugars.

As part of a study abroad that sent BYU dancers to Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Castellana Grotte and Florence, Montana Shugars attended a week of training at La Scala Opera Ballet School. Located in Milan, La Scala is known as one of the leading classical ballet schools in the world.

Shugars is a junior majoring in dance with a ballet emphasis. She is also pursuing a management minor. Calling her dance background “unconventional,” Shugars started dancing five years ago at a performing arts high school when she was fifteen years old. She felt strongly pulled to continue to pursue this art form and said she was grateful BYU was willing to give someone like her, with such little training, an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I was drawn to major in dance because of its physicality,” said Shugars. “I fully believe that education and learning is not about remaining in your comfort zone, but precisely the opposite. I loved ballet and I loved pursuing it, but it certainly wasn’t easy coming from very little training at such a late age. I almost loved my progression more as a human being and as a dancer while I was dancing. It was for this purpose I continued to push myself and learn how to progress as a human being in different ways that drew me to major in something very difficult.”

When Shugars learned she had been accepted into BYU’s ballet program, she looked up everything about BYU that she possibly could. Through this research, she discovered that BYU’s Dance Program went to Italy in 2014, and would go again in 2017. She set a goal to attend and made it happen. 

Shugars visiting the Duomo di Milano. Photo courtesy of Montana Shugars.

Shugars said it was a surreal experience to learn she would be attending and training at the oldest ballet school in the world and living like their summer term students. “To know I would actually be there where so many famous dancers have trained was an experience and feeling I could have never prepared for. It was so humbling to know that BYU and all of the faculty were giving me this opportunity to study ballet in such a special place. This was the opportunity I was most looking forward to on the study abroad and as I look back holistically at my entire study abroad experience, this was the most beneficial dance training I received.” 

Shugars’ highlight of her time in Milan was the week she trained at La Scala. “Everything about that experience was so ornate and beautiful. I loved the people at La Scala Opera Ballet School. Not only were the teachers amazing and brought such an intense and passionate spirit about them, but even the lunch workers were kind and accommodating. I loved being able to talk with the teachers and other workers as much as I could to get to know them and their stories.” 

Shugars said she felt her learning throughout this experience was exponential. Initially she learned a lot about herself while being away from home, but she also gained insight into her priorities and the need to change through interacting with the Italian people. She developed a new love to learn in every capacity. She noticed her growth during the study abroad deepened because she learned the principles, both spiritual and temporal, that she needed to maintain daily in order to feel connected to those around her and to the Savior.

BYU Students viewing La Scala’s Ballet Company perform “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” at the Teatro alla Scala. Photo courtesy of Montana Shugars.

“It was stressful with the tired bodies, tight schedules, homework and other normal maintenance and without the time or the family to completely recharge, I often felt rushed. However, I pushed through and through maintaining a connection to my core values. I found ways to experience moments of pure personal peace.”

For her, pushing through the difficulties, but also learning in every capacity and situation was the most influential part of Shugars’ study abroad. This experiential learning experience reminded Shugars about her purpose for dancing. 

BYU Study Abroad students after class with ballet and variations teachers from the week. Photo courtesy of Montana Shugars.

“Often in American training, the emphasis is on the individual and working toward your perfectionistic goals for yourself and your pride,” said Shugars. “However, while I was in Europe, every movement was emphasized to not be about me but to be about the audience or those viewing ballet. There was a sense of a giving culture with ballet, rather than a selfish one. You were constantly required to give to others in order to truly be genuine with your art.”

Shugars said she loved this principle and it has affected not only how she dances now, but it has affected how she treats and serves other people in her daily life.

“Learning is not just for the university setting or the classroom, but it is everywhere in our everyday lives if we are willing to look for it,” said Shugars. “This study abroad has prepared me for my future endeavors because I have come to understand a greater sense of purpose for myself, but also a greater vision of who I am and who I can become as a person and as a dancer. Now that I know more fully who I am, what I stand for and what is important for me, I am able to understand more of how I am going to get there.” 

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