It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the 20 ballet students from the Rock School for Dance Education who competed in the New York finals of the Youth America Grand Prix last weekend.

There were nerves, slips and two major falls. There were also some excellent performances. In the end, the students won only two medals, which for the Rock meant a slow year. But one of them was gold.

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Esteban Hernandez, a 13-year-old phenom from Mexico, won top honors among men in the junior division, for dancers ages 12 to 14. Hernandez was fresh off another gold medal win, that one in the junior division of the International Student Ballet Competition in Havana, Cuba. (He was only the second non-Cuban to win gold there. The first was his brother, Isaac.) He had also won the youth grand prix in March at the YAGP regional semifinals in Swarthmore.

"I'm just really excited," Hernandez said, holding a trophy that bore a resemblance to an Oscar. After an uncharacteristically rough start in the contemporary round, Hernandez came back with an excellent variation from "Diana and Acteon" in the classical portion, and a strong "Don Quixote" in the final round. "I was a little surprised (by the win), but the judges just saw what was really important."

Hernandez said the Cuban win fulfilled his major goal of the year, but that with 350 students competing from 27 countries, YAGP was special because of its size.

In the ensemble division, Skyler Lubin, 15, and her non-competing partner, Richard Hankes, 20, tied for a bronze medal (with a duo from Il Balletto in Italy) for their ebullient pas de deux, "Spring Waters."

But while the Rock stars only took home two pieces of hardware from New York, they snagged many of the more valuable scholarship awards. The most impressive went to Sara Michelle Murawski, 16, who will be sent to the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland next January.

Lawrence Rines, 17, won two scholarships, to the summer intensive at American Ballet Theatre, and to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the year-round program at ABT. Rines was previously accepted to the School of American Ballet – the feeder school for New York City Ballet - so he has two top choices to choose from.

Fourteen-year-old Millis Faust had more than her share of ups and downs. She performed a shaky contemporary, but then rallied for the classical. She was performing exceptionally well in the final round, holding every position just a fraction of a second longer, and dancing clean pirouettes – until the final seconds of her variation from "Paquita," when she fell face down on stage.

But she was all smiles on Monday night when she won two scholarships – to ABT's summer intensive and a spot in a program at England's Royal Ballet School.

Kara Hanretty, 18, was offered a spot in Ballet West II, and Lubin a place in the Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy.

A full story will appear in print and online on Wednesday.

Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at