Ballet training and all of its associated fees provide a serious barrier to entry for many aspiring dancers. Tuition, appropriate dancewear, pointe shoes and summer intensives add up, and up...and up. Nowadays, many students also compete and the cost to travel to competitions, pay for custom tutus and contract private coaching is astronomical. Then there's room and board at a professional school or conservatory, and the private lessons and coaching that many dancers receive regardless of whether they go the competition route.
As the ballet world grapples with its lack of racial diversity, there's another profound issue that must be addressed—an issue that's related to, but can be separate from, our cultural assumptions about race and ability. The socio-economic disadvantage that many families face—a disadvantage that's often compounded by race, but isn't always—hangs heavily over young dancers and can halt their training.
Abby Abrams, a data reporter intern from the respected statistics site FiveThirtyEight, recently examined the cost of raising a ballerina. She lays out her method in detail. Her conclusion? It'll cost a family about 120K.
There are many complex factors that contribute to the high cost of an excellent ballet education, not least of which is the sorry state of arts funding, arts education and dance literacy in the United States. That's to say, individual families aren't solely responsible for their own (in)ability to access dance training. Ballet's race problem, and it's closely related socio-economic elitism, need to be aggressively addressed through programs like American Ballet Theatre's Project Plié. Outreach measures might not bring the actual cost of ballet training down to accessible levels, but they can create subsidized opportunities for kids who want to pursue dance. As Dance Theatre of Harlem school administrator Kenya Rodriguez told Abrams, "You have to practice diversity."