The days of a USA IBC are filled with workshops, luncheons and other events, along with special performances from contemporary dance companies and more, as the competitors make their way through each stage.
When dancers from around the world talk about this competition, they refer to it simply as "Jackson," USA IBC Executive Director and Development Director Mona Nicholas says.
"When you're in the dance world, ours and (the other IBCs) are considered the ones they want to go to," she says. "But Jackson, to be honest with you, and the world knows it as Jackson, it's the most popular. They all want to come here."
Our city is the only one in the country that hosts an IBC, in part thanks to Thalia Mara's determination to bring it here. In the late 1970s, a group, including choreographer, theater director and dancer Donald Saddler, and former American Ballet Theater Executive Director Jane Hermann, were looking for a home for the USA IBC.
Mara wanted it in Jackson. She and others, including Robert Joffrey of Joffrey Ballet, created Mississippi Ballet International to produce the first competition, which was in June 1979 and featured dancers from 15 countries. At the end of that competition, the International Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute of UNESCO sanctioned the competition, putting it in the ranks of cities such as Varna, Bulgaria; Helsinki, Finland; and Moscow in Russia. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 1982 that declared Jackson as the United States home of the IBC.
As of the end of January 2018, this year's competition had received more than 300 applications. Executive Director Mona Nicholas estimates the number of countries with dancers who applied for the 2018 USA IBC at 27.
"At the beginning of March, we will have our selection committee come in and look at all of the videos, all 300 videos, and we will accept somewhere between 100 and probably 120 competitors to come," Nicholas says.
Vicksburg native Nicholas loved dancing while growing up. She took dances classes in many genres through college, and also danced under the tutelage of Debra Franco, owner of Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance in Vicksburg.
"I was hooked (on dance), big time," Nicholas says.
She graduated from Millsaps College with a bachelor's degree in business administration and management in 1987. She says that after college, she was tired of dancing and wanted to do something else. She became an account manager for Siemens Healthcare.
"I was just a plain volunteer, and then I became a co-chair on a committee, and then I became a chair of a committee, and just over the years and each competition and reunion gala, I wanted to be a part of it," she says. "It is so much fun to be a part of the people that actually make it happen because they do. The volunteers make it happen."
In 2013, the former executive director, Sue Lobrano, informed the board of directors that she planned to retire after the 2014 competition. Nicholas, who was president of the Friends of the USA IBC, became the deputy director of the organization to help with the leadership transition.
Nicholas became the executive and development director of the USA IBC in August 2014. "I had been in my job for 25 years and was kind of tired of it, and I thought, 'You know, this would be a great way for me to kind of end my career is to have my last years really doing something that I really love in a place that I really love,' because I love Jackson," Nicholas says.
While working as the deputy director, Nicholas began analyzing the competition to see how it could be better, and being the executive director gave her the chance to implement changes. Nicholas' big focus over the last four years has been making the competition simpler for the dancers, especially for ones from other countries. One of the ways she is doing that is using the Jackson Convention Complex as the competitors' rehearsal spaces and a place for the competitor class.
"[I]magine being from another country, and not speaking the language and then trying to navigate where to go," Nicholas says. "I just couldn't help but notice (that) there was this beautiful facility right next door to us. It's just got so much open space, and it was just waiting for us."
Nicholas says the dancers will be able to rehearse all day and then walk to Thalia Mara Hall for technical rehearsals and the competition. USA IBC is also using the Westin Hotel as its official hotel.
"This whole strip on Pascagoula Street will be turned into the international village," she says. "Everything will be happening right here."
This year, competitors will live on the Millsaps College campus, and the International Dance School will be on the Belhaven University campus. The Arts and Lecture series is at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium.
After each competition, Nicholas says the University of Southern Mississippi does an economic-impact study for the USA IBC. The 2014 study showed that the competition brought $12.1 million to the state of Mississippi.
"It's really a huge event for our state," she says. "It's important that people support it, that the state supports it, that our city supports it."
The 2018 USA IBC is June 10-23, 2018. For more information, visit usaibc.com.