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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Is it too late to hope for a professional career starting ballet at 17?

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Hi everyone, 

I started ballet this year and I'm 17 years old. I really like it, I have the typical body of a ballerina and I would say a great memory. Are there any hopes for me to become a professional ballerina? (I try to train by myself at home everyday aside from ballet class) 

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  • 2 weeks later...
Chasse Away

Hi Gio,

I guess it depends on your current resources and how you define "professional'. But let's break this whole concept down.

First, let's talk about natural facilities. This is more than just body shape or size, this is about natural turnout, natural feet arch, hyperextension, etc. You don't need any of these things to learn ballet, or even to become a professional, but they certainly can help. In fact, I would say they are more important than 'having the typical body' of a ballet dancer, unless those are the things you meant. 

Next let's talk about training. So most young adults training to become ballet dancers are doing many hours a day of 6 days a week training, plus rehearsals, conditioning, and other styles of dance classes. They have been training intensively for many years. You can't fast forward through this process. Basically, in order to even be considered by a company you would have to do at least 6 more years of very intensive training. This is going to be time consuming and expensive. You might be able to work part time, but it would not cover all of your tuition and rent, so you'll need to have financial support from someone else. Also, the type of school you train at is very important, there are lots of dance studios that are not 'preprofessional' and are not equipped to prepare you for a career in ballet.

Okay, so let's say you do have been blessed with a good natural facility and have the financial means for the training you need. Let's say it's going to take the next 6 years of training and maybe if you're lucky you'll technically be on par with the other dancers at auditions. To stand out you'll need to be a great artist too. Does this mean you'll be able to find a job as a dancer? No. The job market for female ballet dancers is extremely oversaturated and competitive, so many amazing, hardworking, gifted dancers never find contracts. Think about how often people go to see a ballet, it is not that common, there's very little money going into the market and therefore very few jobs, but there are a lot of dancers who want to dance. 

So are you prepared to spend all this time and money for the next 6 years, to dedicate your life to ballet, for like a maybe 0.1 percent chance (and that's generous) to get a contract? Is that even feasible for you?

I know this sounds really tough but it is just supposed to be realistic. Here's the thing, I love to dance, but I have no reason to want a career in ballet. I dance as much as I can afford and perform in the recitals and live my best life and I am happy. I advise the same thing to you, work hard and dance as much as you can afford. Your teachers will notice your hard work and maybe open up a conversation about preparing for auditions. If it works out for you, then that's great, you'll be an exception. But don't count on making it as a professional ballet dancer, because that isn't realistic, people train their whole lives and don't get hired. Maybe there are more opportunities for freelance work as well, or maybe some smaller local shows that 'pay' you to dance but not enough for you to quit your day job. Who knows. 

Dance because you love it and because it makes you happy, don't be in it for the money because there is none. If things work out for you, let it be a bonus not a goal.


Chasse Away


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Miss Persistent

Hi Gio,

Each dancer's journey is different and there is no way anybody can know if they will make it.  It takes a lot of things to make a dancer apart from body type including musicality, performance quality, co-ordination, spacial awareness, a sense of line, team work, determination, fitness and strength, staying relatively injury free, and understanding of the dance world and culture among other things.  Whilst staring ballet at 17 would be unusual for a professional dancer, who knows what might happen? That said, things vary around the world but my 17 year old students are basically in their 'finishing year' of training and auditioning for company schools and university programs.  In my part of the world there is an ever increasing want to have students in a company school younger and younger and younger (too young at times in my opinion) as they want to train them their way, in their style through their programs.  This doesn't mean there aren't other ways to get into companies or access to smaller companies that don't have their own schools, however those way are not the well worn paths of those before. 

I don't think you can put times or ages or years of training on anyone - each dancer is different.  However you would be expected to reach the same levels of 'everything' that other dancers would.  It might be worth researching by watching videos of students at larger company schools to get an idea of the standard you will need to reach, and research the amount and cost of training you will need to get there.  If you want to try, there's no problems with that - it's your time, your money, your life, your dream.  Just remember no-one - and I mean no-one at all, can tell you if you will or wont make it.  It just doesn't work that way.  If you can get there, fantastic and good on you!  I'll buy your book when you write it :)  If you don't make it, I bet you will learn a lot about life along the way.

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