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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Why do universities have ballet programs?

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If professional ballet dancers are supposed to find work by ages 17-20, what is the point of universities and colleges having 4-year ballet performance programs where you won't graduate until 22 at the earliest? And many people graduate later than that due to financial and other issues with college, so by the time you actually graduate from those programs, you are more likely to be about 23-24... I thought ballet companies were picky about the ages of their entry level dancers, so why do they even have ballet performance to study at the university level? Doesn't seem to make sense with timing, unless I am missing something?

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Few companies are routinely hiring minors today, so I do not know how accurate that statement is. If you follow the threads on the college board, you will see where some of the graduates are going and that includes second companies and companies.


Anecdotally, I know a few dancers who were hired during their college years and left the program to work as dancers. I am sure situations like that also complicate the graduation rates.

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Studying dance at the university level provides a different experience than vocational training alone. The university setting provides (and requires) the opportunity for the student to expand areas of study outside and beyond simply dance and movement. The university dance program also typically incorporates dedicated classes in choreography, pedagogy, administrative type courses, along with the requirements of the college that all students---whether dancers or non-dancers---must take.


Our DD chose to go through a BFA program. She has said that she was very glad she did because it helped her explore more who SHE was/is. Something she did not feel she got elsewhere in her dance training, including the post-grad training program closely related to her BFA program. (But she also didn't realize that was different or missing until she had completed her training and could reflect on what she valued in her BFA degree)


For example, as part of her BFA training, the dancers progressed from creating choreography on themselves, to creating choreography on others, to creating, producing, and staging an entire performance show. The dancers were responsible for the entire aspect of that show: auditioning dancers, choreographing pieces, costuming their piece, scheduling rehearsals (no small feat!!!!), lighting, order of performance, advertising, etc, etc. It is a process that involved a lot of skills and they learned to appreciate the technicians with whom a show is not possible and to realize all the moving parts that go into a production.


She also found non-dance classes that she felt helped her grow as a person. She found her voice, both dance and non-dance. She learned SHE had power as a dancer and learned how to use her own strength to protect herself and to know what SHE wanted from dance ---and what she would not sacrifice herself for.


A university dance program, like all other programs of study at the university level, is a more expansive study that involves the whole person, not just the body's movement. University/college is meant as a means of exploring and expanding one's world through study, in-depth and wider ranged than one has previously done. It is a maturing process.


It is, however, simply one path to Rome. Our DD found it very valuable. BUT, I still caution that it is NOT a path to take if it will be loaded with debt. It is simply not prudent to go into large debt for a BFA degree given the nature and expectation of salaries or pay for entry-level dancers. The cost-benefit must be carefully weighed in that regard.

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There are quite a few college ballet programs that require a student to attend 4 semesters. If they are offered a contract after that course of study, the program gives credit for the professional experience within a company while they continue taking the required non-movement courses through an online program set up by the university.


University degrees are required more and move in the ballet world. Read the job requirements outside of the performing aspect of ballet. They all say, "BA or the equivalent required". This means, if one would like to progress onward in ballet administration one will need a degree of some kind to achieve a top level position. Even teaching jobs today are requiring some kind of teaching certification. Gone are the days of just passing along what one remembers.

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I think that was you said is the for jobs outside of performing/professional company a degree is required.


Are companies requiring degrees?


Just checking.

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No, I am discussing after a performing career if one would like remain in the field of ballet.

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I'm not aware of any one place where those statistics can be found. Our experience (in Europe) was that the youngest dancers hired for apprentice or entry level corps positions were at least 18. At 18, these dancers are considered to be "the babies" of the company. When you are the parent of a student hoping to have a professional dance career it's easy to feel like time is slipping quickly away but that is just not the situation that we found -at least in Europe. There are a few extraordinarily talented dancers who are hired from time to time who are younger than 18 but this is rare and I'm not sure that companies are finding that it pays off in the long run. There are more than a few stories of these young phenoms who burn out (think Sergei Polunin from The Royal Ballet).


Back to the university question...If there are funds for a young dancer student to attend university and continue superb training and some performance experience, it is a smart way (IMO) for an 18 year old to continue to pursue their dream, mature and pave the way for a later, second career. If the training occurs as part of a BFA, look for professors/guest teachers who might provide networking for future dancing jobs. We've seen quite a few 18 year olds who were hired into professional dance companies only to decide that the career wasn't what they thought it would be. If there's any question in the mind of a dancer, university could be a good way to figure that out while still working towards the goal of being a dancer. It's very easy to get caught up in the mindset that an 18 year old must have a contract but while your dk is auditioning their heart out, ask yourself and your dk if he/she is ready to work at the job, not just train and compete for a few roles every year. Like every other job starting at 18 in a company means that your dancer will likely be starting at the bottom rung, filling out the corps and will be lucky to be cast in corps roles. It's not as glamorous as it looks! A mature, patient outlook helps and if your dancer doesn't have that then university could be a really good option.


Dancemaven's observations about the earning limitations of a BFA could be mitigated by pairing it with a minor in other more secure, higher potential wage areas.

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The majority of dancers our professional ballet company hires at the apprentice level (and even trainee level -- which is the lower of the two here) have graduated with a BFA in dance/ballet at a university -- or at minimum, have worked as a trainee or apprentice elsewhere. We have had a handful two over the past 7 years who have come directly out of high school -- and they are the exception.

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My niece went from highschool to a training program in England that was cut short because of visa and the school acredidation issues. Anyway, so she came back to the states and had a hard time finding consistant work that paid much. She now, at 23 has been hired in a company that pays a living wage. When she first auditioned at 22, they told her to come back next year. They wanted dancers who had more life experience. She is the youngest in the company.

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I recommend making it a habit to read dancer program and website bios.


At the company where dd is a trainee, a number of the new company dancers and I think half of the second company have college degrees. From what I have been seeing over the years, this is much more the norm than the dancers right out of or still in high school that we saw 25+ years ago.


I think this myth of baby ballerinas is still around as this question comes up in one form or another regularly. I wonder if it is partly because the fantasy of the baby ballerina holds such appeal and if it partly because there are teachers who are less in touch with what is happening today and continue to spread this message. I hope it is more the once true fantasy than the latter. I know I have heard teachers talk about their own experiences getting hired at 16 or 17 many times. But that was sometime ago and if we as students and parents don't understand that, it can be a set up for unnecessary disappointment.

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Agree with previous posters. I don't know if anyone has said it yet, but most ballet companies have expanded their repertoires to include contemporary and modern works, which are taught and learned at universities, not at the pre-pro level. Most 15-18 year old ballet dancers are not exposed to the works of Nacho Duate, Dwight Rhoden, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, etc. until they go to a University dance program. it's simply not enough to be able to just dance Kitri or the Swan corps. Ballet dancers have to be able to also dance modern and contemporary work.

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According to the University of Utah, there is a joint trainee program associated with Ballet West that is offered to a few students each year. In the University of Utah's case they are connected with a professional company and were founded by a professional (William F. Christensen, San Francisco Ballet) in the early 50s.

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