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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Career Planning: Maximizing student chances

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I think the big difference between American ballet now and 30-40 years ago is that today, there are a LOT more well-qualified dancers and dance teachers in a LOT more places in the country. There has also been a LOT of growth in professional dance companies.


However, one must look at the pay. In the past, all companies seemed to pay really terribly. Average pay for union dance companies has gone WAY UP (accounting for inflation) since 1970 --- typically, this is for companies that were already established by 1970. At the same time, other dance companies pay as badly as they always have.


So whether or not you need good exposure by age 14 depends on whether or not you want to make a living as a dancer. Only a handful of American ballet companies pay a living wage, and only a small fraction of professional dancers get to dance for them. I suspect that if you want to be hired by one of these companies, it is best to be attending a well-known nationally recognized school by age 14. The ballet world is still rather small, and the schools give recommendations to the companies before the audition takes place. There are plenty of dancers who are technically well qualified to dance for the "union few" but do not because they did not have the right teacher at the right time to gave them the right recommendation to the right audition, etc. Only those with absolutely outstanding exceptional talent could get a job walking in off the street to a place like ABT or NYCB.


If you don't insist on making a (good) living off of dance, then I think you can focus more on the basics discussed above. There are plusses and minuses to every choice you make.

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  • Mel Johnson


  • Victoria Leigh


  • mylildancer


  • marigold


My dd occasionally participates on another ballet message board. I read a thread with her that was asking if becoming a professional can be done without going to SAB.


a lot of companies start taking people at 16 ( NYCB does anyway), so if you want to get into one of those companies, you're going to have to do exactley what you said you dont want to, leave your family and friends before academic school is over. in fact, if companies start accepting at 16, you should leave before that to start going to the best school possible for you. are you sure you've investigated and there isn't a school like that near enough to you? start going to an si first to see how you do living alone. if you're fine, i'd jump right ahead and see if i could get into one of those major schools. you wouldn't have to live in some random apartment by yourself somewhere you know, lots of the big schools have dorms which create a very nice family environment. working hard is in the end i think the most important thing, and while you don't NEED to go to one of those big pre pro schools, if you want to go to a big company, it would help quite a lot i think.

No wonder at the age of 14 she is in such a hurry and sometimes anxious about things!

Then there's this one:


I live in New York, and my school, Steps, is not that small. But, living in NY, I often meet THEM. THE CHOSEN, the DIVINE, they are the highest caste. THEY are the girls who go to SAB, JOffrey, Ballet Academy East... I've gotten a lot better-but no matter what I do, they will always be... different somehow. Their parents are proud to KNOW that their kids are gonna make it. They are so sure of themselves, so strong, so "balletic" I feel ashamed of myself if I stand at the bar next to them. Their lives are everything I want my life to be-every day they go to school, passing the Lincoln Center, where they posibly will dance with NYCB one day. Those of you who haven't been to NY can't imagine what is it like-to see THEM every day threirhair in high buns, long necks, long legs, turned out feet, stud earrings in their ears... They look just like me. But they are different, and they'll always be.

If I were good enough to go to one of these schools, I would go in a SECOND. I would sell my skin to be there.


Wow! What kind of emotions does this quote invoke in you? Maybe I should tell my dd to switch to the teen group on this message board. At least there are expert moderators here!

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Guest Watermill

Here's a quick and easy reality check for you, mylildancer: Visit a few major ballet websites...click on "company" or "dancers" or "artists"...read the bios of the dancers. You will very quickly realize that professional dancers come from many different paths. Suprising how many did not attend SAB or other "glamour" schools. So how is it they became professionals? Because there are MANY very fine ballet instructors spread throughout this country and the world who really do know what they're doing. And because the dancer shut out the distractions of competing with others and competed with themselves.


Our daughter has a code phrase: "put on the horse-blinders". It means stop glancing to the side at others; concentrate on your own path. It seems to help.

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Here, Here Watermill.


I guess this is why we have to monitor our kids on the internet -- they can be exposed to so much -- much of it without fact. Better to stick with BA where Major Mel and Miss Leigh provide BUF (ballet urban facts) instead of BUL's. :rolleyes:

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Wow, that is pretty intense! Of course there is no need to kill yourself, what's the point of living if you're already dead? I think that reading dancer bios is a good idea.


While it is probably true that being on the fast track at a young age is helpful to get hired by a large ballet company, it might help young dancers to realize that not everyone likes it once they get there. I know plenty of people who danced for major ballet companies for 1 or 2 years and left for something else in dance or elsewhere --- and also plenty of people who did it for a decade or more and loved it. It's just like any high-powered career: you have to go to an Ivy League school to get on the fast track on Wall Street, but not everyone likes life on Wall Street. Most Ivy League graduates do NOT end up on Wall Street. There are plusses and minuses to everything. I think it's normal as teenagers that we want the most glamorous careers, and later we come to a more realistic view of things.


I had to laugh when I read about how this dancer feels next to the students of Joffrey, BAE and SAB. Why? Because BAE is considered a "minor league" feeder school for SAB. And Joffrey's reputation has always been quite different. For the ballet world, Joffrey is unusually open to the concept of training anyone who wants to work hard there. I would be surprised if the girl in the top post really were not able to go to Joffrey. But when you're young, we often do not know how to work the system.


As for KNOWING they'll make it --- that is never certain in ballet, not even if you go to SAB. Fully 80% of Joffrey graduates go on to professional careers --- in a large part because Mrs. D goes to a lot of effort to place her graduating students. I've heard that not as many SAB graduates go on to professional careers. Why? The Joffrey graduates seem more willing to take any job --- and most of them are "minor league" jobs. On the other hand, the SAB graduates are more likely to leave the profession and go to Law School if they don't make it into NYCB, SFB, etc. But the SAB gradutes are probably better dancers on average.

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correct me if I'm wrong.

I have heard and a speaker at my daughters SI (who has a daughter in the upper level at SAB) which have said that not all SAB students get embraced by the company.

I would like to bring out Megan Fairchild, she was recruited by SAB, if I'm not mistaken, at the age of 16-17. Then, she became a corp. dancer with NYC, now she is a soloist or principal (not sure which) with NYC. She did Swan Lake last year and did back to back performances. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you don't have to get on the "fast track" to be noticed. Company's scout for girls that have good technique and potential.

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Just a little correction, if I may. :rolleyes:


Megan Fairchild did go into NYCB at a young age. So have many others.

Miss Fairchild is in the corps of NYCB, learned many roles. This past summer she did all performances of Coppelia at SPAC in Saratoga, replacing Alexandra Ansanelli, who was injured. She did very well.


I think it is important when reporting online to make sure that others know something is hearsay, otherwise there is a great danger of misinformation being disseminated. To wit, the information about various professional ballet schools and acceptance into major companies.

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Please! Watermill and others, I didn't say that I believed what was being written by adolescents. What I was pointing out is that things like this are being said on a ballet talk board, Pointe Magazine to be exact. There are also other threads such as "what did you eat today?" where it seems they try to one up each other on how little they can eat, or threads where it sounds more like "how many pointe shoes can you go through?" I do realize that there are social dynamics of certain age groups that are not to our liking, but is it any wonder kids can get wrong information?


Also, yes my dd does study the bios of dancers in many companies. So are some young dancers in our studio who is doing their research for prospective companies to auditions for. They have commented on how many times they had noticed CPYB and SAB. I'm sure you are right, Watermill, there are many more dancers out there that came from everywhere, but be they right or wrong, that's what they noticed. Of course, CPYB and SAB put out larger numbers of students, I would imagine, so therefore, you would see their names more often.


I would ask that you all be patient with me if I sound like an idiot. I am trying to learn. Just two years ago I didn't even know what SAB was. :rolleyes:

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  • Administrators

This is why this board exists.......especially the teen and parent areas.....to prevent just this kind of thing from going on. On those other boards the kids can write anything they want and there is no one to set them straight or keep them from posting gossip, speculation, posts that make no sense, stupid eating stuff, etc., etc., etc. Everything said by those kids is ridiculous and has no basis in fact whatsoever. Most dancers do not get into companies at 16, and most do not have to leave home to get training unless they live in a small town where there is no good training. Most DO graduate from high school at home. NYCB does take students from it's own school, however most other companies, including ABT, which does not even have a school except in the summer, do not.


If your kids are reading those other boards, I would strongly suggest that you discourage it, as they will continue to get a great deal of misinformation.

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Megan was my daughter's suitemate at SAB during Megan's first summer there. Megan turned 15 that summer. She was offered a full scholarship to stay for the year but declined it because her parents preferred that she stay home for another year. The next summer she went back to SAB and then, at the age of 16, stayed on. She joined NYCB as an apprentice the following spring, a little before she turned 17.


I like it that she didn't stay for the year when she was 15, despite the invitation. Very wise parental decision there.


Needless to say, Ms. Fairchild is a remarkable talent and her history isn't often repeated at NYCB or any other company, for that matter.

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As for KNOWING they'll make it --- that is never certain in ballet, not even if you go to SAB. Fully 80% of Joffrey graduates go on to professional careers --- in a large part because Mrs. D goes to a lot of effort to place her graduating students. I've heard that not as many SAB graduates go on to professional careers. Why? The Joffrey graduates seem more willing to take any job --- and most of them are "minor league" jobs.

For those of you who don't know her, "Mrs. D" is Edith D'Addario, who is mother hen, guru and Director of the Joffrey School. She's great, and is one of the undercelebrated movers and shakers in the ballet world. She actually does job-hunts for students at the school, and finds work, be it dancing, or commercial work, or nice openings in shows - she does a lot to get Joffrey students around! Get the foot in the door, and a world of networking opens!

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Guest Watermill

Sorry if you misunderstood me or if you picked up on some kind of tone that was not intended, mylildancer, I was in kind of a rush and perhaps should have waited til I had more time.


Anyway, I certainly didn't think that you were agreeing with the teen post. In fact, I thought it was quite admirable of you to not only have the concern but to share that concern with other Ballet Moms & Dads. I was just giving you my quick take on a very common problem: teens portraying the word through clique-colored glasses. We all went through it. It eventually passes, but to be a parent shepherding them through such perilous times is trying, isn't it? I'm guiding my fourth (and last) teenage child through the traps and snares and it has not gotten any easier.


I strongly agree with Ms. Leigh: you are what you read. A moderated forum is by far the better field for our little lambs.


Best wishes,



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And I certainly don't think that a lot of the work they get would be considered "minor league" at all, citibob. She gets dancers working, and some of them are in all sorts of companies, major, minor, broadway, commercials, TV, whatever. When a dancer is working and making a living as a dancer, I don't think they should be put down in any fashion. To be able to do this on broadway, or in a commercial is pretty major league, IMO.


And where do you get the idea that BAE is a "minor league feeder school for SAB"? Is this an established fact, or just what some people think?


Please be careful of posting heresay and percentages or anything else that cannot be proven because there is really no data on it unless it is preceded by a statement saying that it is an opinion, not a fact. That is just as bad as what the students say in those posts, where they assume that everything they here from anyone is gospel, not gossip.

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I'm very familiar with Megan, she danced in the same area as my daughter and danced in the Nutcracker with her as well. I knew of her past and apparently Vagansmom knows it as well. So, the only thing I assumed is she was promoted to soloist because of the dominant role she played in "Coppelia" (not swan lake).

Excuse my ignorance.


However, her base training DID NOT come from "SAB", it came from other areas and I think students should understand this. Many children start out at a very young age at places like "SAB" and still never make it into the company.


I feel that good training can come from any knowledgable, professional teacher. Children don't need a big name behind them to make them the best dancer out there or even successful.

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