It’s the American dream, ballet-style: A small-town girl works hard, turns heads in the big city and wins her way to the top of a world-class company. Teresa Reichlen is one such story: Before joining New York City Ballet, she studied at The Russell School of Ballet in Chantilly, VA. “It’s nice to be a big fish in a small pond to start out,” she says. Instead of always dancing in the corps, “you get to perform the challenging parts.”

Several small studios around the country are producing professional-caliber dancers. These schools may not receive the same publicity as their counterparts with companies or boarding schools attached, but they prove that you don’t need high-profile training to make it as a dancer. In fact, the extra attention, performance opportunities and lower-stress environment might be what you need to grow—not just as a dancer, but as an artist.

Greenwich Ballet Academy
Greenwich, CT, and Port Chester, NY
GBA has only been around since 2006, but its strong Vaganova training (modeled after the Vaganova and Bolshoi academies’ eight-year program) is unique in the region. Students get lots of one-on-one attention—classes only have 4 to 15 students. Plus, the studio’s close proximity to New York City means that guest teachers such as American Ballet Theatre principal Irina Dvorovenko and NYCB legend Allegra Kent can easily drop in for the day.
Classes: Ballet, pointe, repertoire, pas de deux, modern, contemporary ballet, men’s class, character, yoga
Number of students: 105 (audition required)
Performances per year: Two or three
Competitions: Youth America Grand Prix
Alumni: Kelsey Connolly (Juilliard)
Fun fact: The Port Chester loft-like studios used to be a Fruit of the Loom factory.

Alexandra Ballet
Chesterfield, MO
Founded in 1949, Alexandra Ballet has made a reputation for itself through Regional Dance America—the school’s pre-professional company recently represented RDA’s Mid-States Regional Ballet Association at the 2010 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. Alexandra Ballet also keeps up a connection with Cincinnati Ballet, whose dancers often give master classes and perform with students.
Classes: Ballet, modern, character, pointe, pas de deux, men’s class, variations, Pilates
Number of students: 200 (no audition required)
Performances per year: Up to 12
Competitions: The school doesn’t emphasize competitions, but supports students who compete.
Alumni: Louise Nadeau (former PNB principal), Antonio Douthit (Alvin Ailey), Rodney Hamilton (Ballet Hispanico), Makensie Howe and Dillon Malinski (Houston Ballet II)
Fun fact: The school was recently filmed for a British documentary called SwanSong, about Alexandra Ballet alum Ian Archer-Watters (former Les Ballets Grandiva dancer).

Metropolitan Ballet Academy
Jenkintown, PA
MBA students benefit from an inside connection to Pennsylvania Ballet: Led by former PAB assistant ballet mistress Lisa Collins Vidnovic, the faculty includes several current and former PAB dancers and artistic staff, including the artistic director of the second company.
Classes: Ballet, modern, jazz, repertoire, pas de deux, men’s class
Number of students: 375 (no audition required)
Performances per year: At least nine
Competitions: Youth America Grand Prix
Alumni: Phoebe Gavula (Pennsylvania Ballet II)
Fun fact: MBA has a special Boys’ Scholarship Program with more than 60 boys enrolled.

Southland Ballet Academy
Fountain Valley and Irvine, CA
Students at this California studio gain connections all over the world—SBA regularly brings in top master teachers, such as Royal Ballet School director Gailene Stock, NYCB principal Megan Fairchild and even Kirov director Yury Fateyev.
Classes: Ballet, pointe, pas de deux, men’s class, Russian character, modern, stretch, Pilates, jazz, hip hop
Number of students: 400 (no audition required)
Performances per year: Three
Competitions: Youth America Grand Prix, Prix de Lausanne, USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Helsinki International Ballet Competition
Alumni: Bryn Gilbert (Ballet Memphis), Jamie Kopit (ABT apprentice), Kirby Wallis (Ballet Austin), Jade Payette (The Washington Ballet), Quenby Hersh  (Scottish Ballet)
Fun fact: Southland students are loyal: The school (now almost 30 years old) currently has third-generation students—the grandchildren of some of its original dancers!

The Russell School of Ballet
Chantilly, VA
Directors Karla and Hans Petry, the husband and wife team at The Russell School, offer a nurturing environment, and students and teachers become close in this tight-knit community.
Classes: Ballet, pointe, variations, character, jazz, tap, modern, lyrical, stretch
Number of students: 375–400 (audition required for higher-level classes)
Performances per year: Three
Competitions: No
Alumni: Teresa Reichlen (NYCB principal), Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch (Martha Graham Dance Company principal), Ian Thatcher (formerly with SFB, PNB and Ballets de Monte Carlo)
Fun fact: The school is beginning its 47th year.

Westside Ballet
Santa Monica, CA
Westside students have a direct link to George Balanchine himself: Director Yvonne Mounsey was an NYCB principal under the choreographer, so she teaches his style as she learned it firsthand.
Classes: Ballet, jazz, pointe, pas de deux, variations
Number of students: 390 (no audition required)
Performances per year: Two
Competitions: No
Alumni: Andrew Veyette (NYCB principal), Melissa Barak (choreographer), Anna Liceica (former ABT soloist), Kylee Kitchens (PNB)
Fun facts: This past summer, New York’s School of American Ballet held a two-week summer session at Westside Ballet.

International Ballet School
Littleton, CO
IBS takes the “international” element of its name seriously, inviting former Bolshoi and Paris Opéra Ballet dancers to teach master classes, and producing stylistically versatile students who go on to dance all over the world—from Monaco to Switzerland to Germany. 
Classes: Ballet, character, contemporary, pointe, variations
Number of students: 60 (no audition required)
Performances per year: Two, plus outreach
Competitions: Youth America Grand Prix, Prix de Lausanne, World Ballet Competition
Alumni: Erin McAffee (The Joffrey Ballet), Anisa Scott (Dresden SemperOper Ballet)
Fun fact: IBS has recently begun purchasing sets and costumes from companies like London Festival Ballet and Houston Ballet. In a recent Peter Pan production, the school rented rigging so that the dancers could fly onstage!

At Your Feet

American Harlequin is in the business of providing dancers with a solid foundation—both literally and figuratively. This year, the dance floor company will award between $500 and $5,000 to 10 aspiring dancers selected at random. You must be an American or Canadian citizen, ages 15 to 21, enrolled in a dance school to enter. Fill out an application at by November 1.

ABT Down South
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School boasts star teachers, an unbeatable connection to American Ballet Theatre and dozens of high-profile alumni. But the school has never been able to offer a full boarding experience complete with dorms and academics—until now. This fall, JKO took the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Dance ballet program under its wing. UNCSA faculty members have become certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum, and ABT staff will visit Winston-Salem annually to give master classes, judge exams and scout for Studio Company prospects. ABT staff will also assist the search for a permanent replacement for Ethan Stiefel, who served as the dean of UNCSA’s School of Dance for the past four years before leaving to become artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. See

Healthy Competition

At competitions, it’s usually every man for himself. But the Youth Dance Festival of New Jersey aims to give dancers a place to perform without sacrificing artistry in service of splashy tricks. Winners are chosen, but everyone receives written feedback, a certificate of achievement and access to workshops taught by jury members.
Dates: October 8 and 9
Location: Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ
Founded: 2005 by Leonid Kozlov
Ages: 9–25
Genres: Ballet, contemporary, jazz, folk dance
Past participants: ABT’s April Giangeruso, Boston Ballet’s Whitney Jensen, Billy Elliot’s Kiril Kulish
To register: Go to

Win Up To $1,000

Can you write passionately about your ballet training? You could win Costume Gallery’s annual Beverly Miller Scholarship. Judges will award up to $1,000 to 19 dancers ages 12 to 21. Selections are based on dedication and financial need. The money can be used for anything that furthers your training. Apply by November 1 at

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Ballet Stars
Tim Verhallen, via Instagram

Dutch National Ballet Soloist Michaela DePrince has been busy winning over the mainstream media. Since last spring, the First Position star not only landed a spokesmodel deal with Jockey, but she also recently teamed up on a commercial with Chase Bank and just announced that Madonna will be directing her upcoming biopic, Taking Flight (totally casual).

What could possibly be next? The cover of April's Harper's Bazaar Netherlands, it turns out. Posing in an arabesque with her hair slicked back in her usual ballet bun, DePrince traded in her leotard and tights for a stunning metallic Gucci dress (can we do that, too?).

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Ballet Stars
Leanne Benjamin and Luke Heydon in "Coppélia," via YouTube.

Dancing with The Royal Ballet from 1992 until 2013, former principal Leanne Benjamin tackled just about every role in the classical gamut, from Juliet to Nikiya to Giselle. As the young and spirited Swanilda in this clip from Coppélia, Benjamin reveals that she has equal talent for the silly as the serious. Her comedic performance in Swanilda's doll dance is this role at its best.

In an effort to trick the scheming Dr. Coppelius and save her beloved Franz, Swanilda pretends she is the doll Coppélia come to life. As she begins to dance, Benjamin is stiff and mechanical one moment and then flopped over like a rag doll the next. Dr. Coppelius, played by character artist Luke Heydon, watches her enthralled and Benjamin's gaze is fixed in a plastic stare. But when the toymaker looks away, Benjamin's Swanilda breaks doll character and frantically tries to figure out an escape. Feebly, Dr. Coppelius tries to keep up with her. Although we feel some sympathy for the delusional old toymaker, we can't help laughing at Swanilda's antics. And that slap at 1:55? Gets us every time. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

New York City Ballet's shoe room. Photo by Tess Mayer.

Deep in the basement of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater is a small, windowless space that's home to nearly 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes, neatly stacked on shelves that reach to the ceiling. It's New York City Ballet's shoe room, and for company members, it's one of the most important places in the world. Dancers frequently stop by to search for the ideal pair for a special performance, or to tweak their custom pointe shoe orders, trying to get that elusive perfect fit. "If the shoe isn't right, the dancer can't do her job," says shoe room supervisor and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Linnette Roe. We talked to Roe and NYCB soloist Emilie Gerrity about some of the most interesting—and surprising—secrets of the shoe room.

The NYCB dancers go through 9,000 to 11,000 pairs of shoes each year, including flat shoes, sneakers, jazz shoes, and character shoes. The company has an annual shoe budget of about $780,000.

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Younji-Grace Choi at the 2014 USA IBC. Choi is now a dancer with Cincinnati Ballet and will return to the USA IBC as a senior competitor this summer. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

Exciting news today: the USA International Ballet Competition has just announced its list of invited competitors for the summer 2018 competition. The USA IBC has invited 119 dancers from 19 countries out of over 300 applicants to compete in Jackson, MS June 10-23.

Since the last USA IBC in 2014 the competition has expanded its age limits; the junior category now allows dancers ages 14-18 and the senior category dancers ages 19-28. Of the 119 competitors this year, 53 are juniors and 66 are seniors. The United States has the highest number of competitors invited (52), followed by Japan (23) and South Korea (14). The other countries represented are Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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Les Grabds Ballets dancer Mai Kono in a promotional phtoo for next season's production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Photo by Sasha Onyschenko, Courtesy Les Grands Ballets.

The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

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Ballet Stars
Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli as Alice and Jack/the Knave of Hearts. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH.

As told to Laura Cappelle.

I knew before Christopher Wheeldon even started Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that he wanted me to create the title role. We made Alice together. We feel like she is our girl! She's charming, witty, tough, curious. She's got a very big heart. She's also spontaneous, which helps the show, because you don't have to be calculated the whole time. You can bounce off the characters you come across, because everyone plays them slightly differently.

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Ballet Careers
Dominic Walsh (right) working with Whim W'him. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy Whim W'him.

Summer is the perfect time for busy dancers to get some much-needed rest after a long season. But it's also a good opportunity to hone your technique. Summer training opportunities for professionals are scarce, although the ones that do exist are pretty great. Now, there is a welcome addition on the horizon that we're excited about.

Choreographer and former Houston Ballet principal Dominic Walsh recently announced that he has teamed up with the Colorado Conservatory of Dance to create the Compass Coaching Project, a two-week intensive for dancers over the age of 17. Held June 4–16 in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, the workshop is specially tailored for those in trainee, second company and apprentice positions. "In today's model of a dancer's profession, there is sometimes a long transition between student and professional," Walsh says in a statement. "I believe this is a crucial time for mentorship." Indeed, a dancer's early career is often marked by anxiety and uncertainty as they spend one or more years in low-paid or unpaid junior ranks.

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