Crystal Pite working with members of the Paris Opéra Ballet. Photo by Julien Benhamou.

Why Aren't We Teaching Aspiring Ballerinas How to Choreograph?

In February, I attended the Prix de Lausanne, where I moderated a series of panel discussions that were open to the competing students, their teachers and parents, and the public. One topic I was particularly excited about concerned women in leadership roles, and how the ballet world can better nurture leadership qualities in female dancers. My panelists included Korean National Ballet artistic director Sue Jin Kang, English National Ballet associate director Loipa Araújo and Gigi Hyatt, the deputy director of the Hamburg Ballet School.

There was just one problem—while there were plenty of audience members, none of the female students actually showed up. As I watched a few of them browse the pop-up ballet shop on their way out of the theater, I couldn't help but think “Don't you know this talk is for you?"


They had had a very long and stressful day and probably wanted to get back to their hotels. Still, it was an enlightening moment for me, one I couldn't help thinking about again in light of recent events.

This week, a New York Times interview with Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky sparked a heated debate on social media. When asked why the majority of ballet choreographers are men, they gave a range of answers that many felt didn't go far enough to acknowledge ballet's inherent sexism. Peck thought there needed to be more encouragement and support for women at an early age; Wheeldon wasn't sure why there was a disparity, but noted that many companies are actively trying to improve diversity; Ratmansky didn't feel there was a problem, citing the success of Crystal Pite, Jessica Lang and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. (On his Facebook page, Ratmansky later stressed that the question was not part of the original interview and that he had quickly texted back his answer in between rehearsals.)

Is ballet sexist? Absolutely. I have plenty of examples from my own career of being treated differently or paid less than my male counterparts. And these differences in treatment are baked in at an early age: Male students are rare and highly prized, while female students are a dime a dozen and easily replaceable. Many in the dance industry feel this, in addition to the fact that women tend to have busier rehearsal schedules as professionals, has a direct correlation to the gender imbalance in leadership roles, and choreography in particular.

Choreographic talent has nothing to do with one's gender, and shouldn't be judged such. But I think Peck is on to something. As my experience at the Prix suggests, I suspect most aspiring ballerinas aren't even thinking about choreographing or directing someday—I certainly wasn't at their age. By the time they do, it's difficult to find time in between long corps de ballet rehearsals to explore those skills, especially if they've forgone college to go right into a company.

This got me thinking: I didn't have aspirations to become a journalist until I took my first journalism class. But dance composition is completely absent from most classical ballet curriculum. Couldn't we do a better job at offering ballet students a chance—whether it's part of their weekly curriculum or a workshop or in summer programs—to explore their creativity, learn about the choreographic process and experience some mentorship? Not everyone wants to be a choreographer, of course, but since the majority of ballet students are girls, it might help inspire those with choreographic talent understand their potential and keep trying. Some schools, like the School of American Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and University of North Carolina School of the Arts' high school program already do this. Then there's American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Gemma Bond—she discovered she had a gift for dancemaking at a choreographic competition at The Royal Ballet School. And she's been steadily working her tail off to hone her craft and present work ever since. (Will she have a chance to choreograph on the main company soon?) While I don't think choreography classes are the only answer, who knows what talent could be nurtured if we took the time to develop it.

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks