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I'm not sure if this in the right place or not.


But I was wondering, what is the highest rank in a company for a female dancer?

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Principal Dancer US & UK

Etoile- POB

Prima Ballerina- Germany

Prima Ballerina Assoluta- Russia


Anyone else have anything to add?

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Just that "prima ballerina assoluta" has been getting some abuse from the press lately, until it has sometimes seemed to stand for "Good Ol' Broad Who Shoulda Hung It Up a Long Time Ago." It was actually a title of state, awarded by the Tsar. He only named two of them, Pierina Legnani and Mathilde Kschessinskaya. Olga Preobrajenskaya was considered for the title, but wasn't named. Alexandra Danilova once said of the title, "Prima Ballerina Assoluta is like five-star General." "Ballerina" gets a lot of the same misuse, standing popularly as an exact synonym for "any female ballet dancer". It is that only in Italy.

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So basically, in the US, the highest ranked dancer is Principal?


I've heard "prima ballerina" a lot so I didn't know if that was still an actual title.

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It is a title, but not in the US, where the companies have a number of Principal Dancers. It would be used in a company where there is one top ballerina, with a title above the other principals.

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It was actually a title of state, awarded by the Tsar. He only named two of them, Pierina Legnani and Mathilde Kschessinskaya.


To add to Mel's comment - Apparently this is a myth 'created' in Russian ballet. The term Prima Ballerina Assoluta existed in Italian ballet long before the Russian ballet became prominant. It was a title decided upon by 'ballet people' as a means of identifying 'the best' dancer of a generation. Historically, the title was only given at the discretion of choreographers and company directors, not by kings and tsars. In practice, there is no definitive definition of a Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Any ballet company could, if they wish, appoint their most celebrated dancer as a PBA, and it would have no less credibility. Today many companies do actually keep a seperate rank specially for particularly famous dancers. The Russians did have a big part to play in glamorising the rank of PBA though, so it's easy to see how this has got confused.



The traditional ranking system is:


Prima Ballerina Assoluta

Prima Ballerina, Première Sujet or Première Danseuse

Sujet - Equivalent to the modern soloist/character artist, so literally the dancers who played roles within the story

Coryphée - From the Greek Coryphaeus, meaning 'leader of the chorus', so literally, the leaders of the Corps de Ballet

Corps de Ballet



Some modern ranking systems:


- Royal Ballet -

Principal Guest Artist (Equivalent to PBA)


Principal Character Artist

First Soloist


First Artist




- Paris -

Etoile (Paris do not equate Etoile to PBA)

Premiers Danseur



Quadrilles (Equivalent to Corps de Ballet)



- La Scala -

Etoile (Equivalent to PBA)

Guest Artist



Corps de Ballet

Reserve Corps de Ballet



- Mariinsky -


1st Soloist

2nd Soloist

Principal Character Artist


Corps de Ballet



- NYCB -




Corps de Ballet



Most companies loosely use the same system of Principal, Soloist, Corps de Ballet, but intermediate rankings such as 1st Artist or Coryphee, usually exist in very large companies where a more structured ranking system is in place and where the company wish to maintain the traditional hierarchy from star dancer down to lowly corps de ballet member. The NYCB system of using only those three ranks is very rare for a company of its size, and is probably intended as a means of avoiding dancers being made to feel superior to one another, so a more democratic approach.

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We're getting into Too Much Information here, for a basic question of

what is the highest rank in a company for a female dancer?


Suffice it to say that it's really a matter of usage, no matter what the official titles of the dancers in the companies may be.


But while Prima Ballerina Assoluta was a title of various Italian opera houses, it was also a sinecure title of the Russian Crown, which paid its holder for doing what she'd do anyway. How arrived at is a murky business, but clearly Legnani's appointment was from inside the ballet company, foreigner that Legnani was, but there can be some question as to Tillie's appointment. She was, after all, the mistress of Nicholas II while he was Tsarevitch, and when he married Alexandra, he passed her on to his cousin, who eventually married her. Gotta be some outside-the-Maryinsky politicking going on there!

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