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


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks