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


Courtesy ABC

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Alicia Mae Holloway Talks About Her Time on ABC's “The Bachelor”

Bunheads tuning in to the season premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor" on January 4 may have recognized a familiar face: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alicia Mae Holloway, literally bourréeing out of a limousine to greet bachelor Matt James. While Holloway unfortunately didn't get a rose that night, she did thoroughly enjoy being the long-running reality franchise's first professional-ballerina contestant, as she told Pointe in a recent Zoom call.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Make the Most of Performance Opportunities in a Pandemic?

My school is connected to a professional company that operates on a show-to-show basis. Students can audition for company performances when they're 15. My 15th birthday is in February, and I think that our directors are choosing people to participate in virtual performances based off of whether they have performed with the company before. This was supposed to be my big first year with the company, but COVID-19 has changed that. How do I make it known that I want to participate? Do you think I should wait until things are more normal? —Lila
Keep reading SHOW LESS
Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Join Us for a Q&A With ABT's Gabe Stone Shayer on January 21

Gabe Stone Shayer, American Ballet Theatre's newest soloist, has long been a standout onstage. But the 27-year-old dancer—the first African-American male to graduate from Russia's Bolshoi Ballet Academy—is also branching out into choreography and spearheading a flurry of creative projects. Shayer has big ideas for ballet's future. "I want to be the person who facilitates the idea of possibility in this historically exclusive world," he told us in our December/January digital cover story. "And I want to present the possibility of success through my own story."

Now you have a chance to ask Shayer about his training and career, his advice on navigating a path in ballet, his recent work with Alicia Keys, his thoughts on diversity in dance and more. Click here to register for free with your questions. Then tune in for an exclusive conversation and Q&A with Gabe Stone Shayer on Thursday, January 21, at 7 pm Eastern.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks