ABT Soloist SunMi Park is Rocketing Through the Ranks

June 13, 2023

There’s flying through the ranks, and then there’s American Ballet Theatre’s SunMi Park, who skyrocketed from apprentice to soloist all within the span of a year. Born and raised in South Korea, Park was initially more interested in playing soccer as a kid than in training for a professional ballet career. All of that quickly changed once she got in the studio and, after Park made her way to the Youth America Grand Prix competition at 18, she had her sights set on ABT. “I had always thought I wanted to go to Russia,” Park recalls, mentioning how her roadmap changed after she was offered a contract for ABT Studio Company at YAGP. But first she wanted to finish her degree at Korea National University of Arts. After graduating the following year, Park sent in a video submission for ABT Studio Company, and the rest is the stuff dreams are made of.

a female dancer mid-air stepping off a curb
Photo by Quinn Wharton.

A Hesitant Start:

“The very first time my mom asked me if I wanted to try ballet, I said no. I loved sports, and I thought ballet was really hard and the music was really boring. I cried the whole first week, but then I met a nice teacher and started to love it.”

Moving to a Different Country:

“The big challenge is language. Before I moved here in 2019, I couldn’t speak English at all. When COVID happened, I went back to Korea for almost a year and a half, and that’s when my English started getting better.”

Her Pre-Performance Routine:

“I do a lot of relevés and balances. Always before a show I’m really nervous, so that’s why I listen to something fun like K-pop music. Right now, I like the new girl group NewJeans.”

Getting Promoted to Soloist:

“The funny thing is, I had no idea. We had a meeting all together, and Kevin McKenzie said, ‘This is a promotion meeting.’ I sat down with my friends like, ‘Okay, someone is getting promoted.’ They call out Chloe Misseldine, Betsy McBride, Breanne Granlund, and Sung Woo Han, and then Kevin says, ‘SunMi.’ I was almost crying because I felt like it was a dream.”

A Career-Creating Moment:

“When I did the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 2017, the whole thing just changed my mind. I took my bow, came backstage, and my teacher asked me how I felt. I was really happy, and after that performance I knew I wanted this.”