Bye Bye Baby Ballerina?


With trainee programs, apprenticeships, second companies and college-level dance programs on the rise, it seems like the idea of the “baby ballerina” has phased out.  There are no more Ballet Russes dubbing teens their prima ballerinas. Maria Tallchief became Balanchine’s premiere ballerina at the age of 19 in the late 1940s.  In the 1950s, 14-year-old Eleanor D’Antuono began her career with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  Gelsey Kirkland first joined New York City Ballet in the 60s at age 15. These dancers rose through the ranks to become stars before their twenties.  Granted, they were all exceptionally talented ballerinas, but talent generally isn’t brought up as quickly anymore.  Today, most dancers, from the corps to principal ranks, are in their twenties.  As the ballet world continues to expand and grow, its professional makeup seems to have gotten older.




In fact, American ballet dancers today are considered young if they are swept into an apprenticeship after high school graduation at age 17 or 18.  Companies seem to be keeping young dancers as trainees, apprentices or second company members, thereby gaining, or should I say taking advantage of, enthusiastic talent at very little cost.  Many trainee programs actually charge tuition as they are billed as a program that polishes advanced dancers and gives them the opportunity to perform with the company.  This new cheap-labor trend, while costly to young dancers, is a savvy cost-cutting strategy for American ballet companies, who need all the financial assistance they can get in order to keep ballet alive in this country.  It doesn’t seem fair that many dancers who are perfectly capable of being a contracted company member are stuck in an unpaid position, but this may be a smart way to keep American ballet companies afloat.



At the same time, more and more dancers are choosing the college or conservatory route, auditioning for companies after or while they receive their degree.  This seems to be largely due to the nature of the ballet in America: There are a lot of dancers out there, but most companies are not able to hire.  So, why not continue to train while also getting a degree?  A college or conservatory experience does not provide an affiliation or performance opportunities with a particular company, but many dancers see this higher education route as something that could open new doors for them in the dance world.



Luckily, with today’s advances in dance medicine, dancers have more longevity and therefore can make a successful career later in life, whether it’s after a trainee program or earning a degree.  The route to a contract may be getting longer, but so are careers.  It seems the ballet world is maturing, in a sense.  The definition of the ballet dancer is broadening as each one carves a long, divergent path towards a professional career.




Latest Posts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Butternut Squash Takes Center Stage This Fall—Plus, 2 Easy Recipes

Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: The Joffrey Ballet's Dara Holmes

A seasoned dancer, Dara Holmes' career with The Joffrey Ballet has consisted of a lot of heavy lifting in the ensemble. "As a new company member, I was onstage all the time," says Holmes, 28. "The older you get, the more you start to appreciate your body and want to preserve it. If I want to keep dancing and do bigger roles, I need to be healthy."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks