Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.


What exactly do you want?

Before you start asking questions, think about the answers you're looking for. "Know what you want out of a program, so that when you do your research, you can be sure you're getting your boxes checked," says Georné Aucoin, artistic director of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia.

Raymond Rodriguez, director of The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, urges students to consider whether or not they can or want to relocate, as well as their family's budget. Think about what style of ballet you are interested in studying, too. "Russian? Balanchine? Generalized American? Only you and your family can determine your needs," says Rodriguez.

Runqiao Du, ballet artistic director of the Kirov Academy of Washington, DC, agrees, and says he even asks prospective students to list three reasons they want to attend. "Oftentimes they will tell me it's because they want to dance, or potentially tour with a company," says Du. "That's not a good enough reason. A pre-professional program is like going to graduate school. Nobody would go to graduate school without researching if the program is a good fit for them personally. It's up to dancers to know what they're looking for."

In front of large studio windows, 10 ballet students\u2014five girls and five boys\u2014stand in a staggered line and pose with their right leg in tendu derriere in effac\u00e9. They all lift their right arm up high and look up towards their hand while their left arm is held low.

Conservatory students at The Joffrey Academy of Dance

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

What questions should you be asking?

There are so many details associated with choosing a pre-professional program that it can be overwhelming to know what to ask. Here are some starting points.

Day-to-day class structure: According to Aucoin, it's important to inquire about how many students will be in each class, the daily and weekly schedule (ask for their current schedule to get a general idea of hours), and how the program balances technique class with rehearsals.

Rodriguez also recommends asking about the curriculum. "How versatile is their training?" Rodriguez asks. "Is it strictly ballet classes, pointe, variations and pas de deux? Or will you get contemporary, modern and jazz, as well?"

A good program should have professional company vigor, says Du. "In a company, class is 90 minutes, followed by five or six hours of rehearsal," he says. "Your mind and body need to be prepared to do that by the time you join a company, so choose a school that has hours that will train you to be ready."

Nondance logistics: Tuition and housing should be among your first questions. "Inquire about the financial cost of the program up front to see if it's possible for your family," Aucoin says. If you're coming from out of town, ask if they provide living arrangements (and how far away these offerings are from the school), or to offer recommendations if they don't. "At our school, we typically make suggestions [to stay with] families who might be willing to host," she says.

You also want to research the program's approach to academics, to see if it matches your personal goals. Some offer academics on campus or are associated with a nearby high school, while others offer options for remote learning. "Is there a culture of taking education seriously, or is it lower down on their priority list?" asks Aucoin. She adds that she's even had parents ask if her faculty monitors their students' nondance education (they do not), as well as their stance on having a dance/life balance (they think it's very important.)

A redheaded teenage ballerina in a light purple tutu does a d\u00e9velopp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9 derriere with her right leg and stands on pointe. Her male partner, in white tights and a light purple tunic, holds her left hand to the side and her right hand high above her head.

Students of the Kirov Academy of Washington, DC

Courtesy Kirov Academy

School-to-company statistics: If your goal is to eventually join the school's affiliated company, ask about how many dancers typically feed into it each year. "If the answer is only one or two students, you may be better off training elsewhere," Rodriguez says. "For example, half of Joffrey has come from the intensive and the academy, and it's only 11 years old at this point."

If the program isn't connected to a company, ask about the opportunities alumni have landed since graduating. Does the school regularly place dancers into companies, and do they appear to have strong connections with the ones you're most interested in?

Faculty backgrounds: Research the program's artistic staff, including the director, ballet masters and teachers. Look online for speeches or classes your presumptive teachers have previously given to see if they resonate. "Most directors have a real history," says Rodriguez. "Is his or her artistic career something intriguing to you? Do you think participating in an environment led by someone with their experience will help you grow?"

Getting your questions answered

In 2021, your best method for gathering information will always be the company's website. For example, on the Frequently Asked Questions page of Joffrey Academy's website, you will find a downloadable Parent and Student Handbook that covers many of the questions mentioned above.

You can also discover the school's stylistic and technical tendencies on their Instagram and YouTube pages. Plus, during a time when in-person tours are rare, exploring a school's feed can give you a sense of their facilities. You may also want to use social media to seek out former students to get deeper insight. "Ask them what the pros and cons of their experience was," Du says.

A blonde teenage ballet student in a long white tutu and burgundy peasant bodice performs onstage in front of a blue backdrop. Holding her skirt, she brushes her left leg into an attitude derriere while in pli\u00e9 on her right leg, and looks to her right with a confident smile.

A student from International City School of Ballet

Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City School of Ballet

If you still have questions, Aucoin recommends emailing the school or requesting a phone conversation. "Sometimes, if there are a lot of inquiries, it's just easier to talk on the phone."

Of course, the best way to get to know a school is to visit in person, especially once travel restrictions are lifted and it's safer to take class with groups. Summer intensives are an ideal way to do that, but you could also try to schedule a visit during the school year. "In all honesty, it's the easiest way for students to get to know the program, and for us to get to know them, as well," says Aucoin.

Latest Posts


The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

My 12-Year Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree While Dancing Professionally

If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Michael Cousmano, AKA Madame Olga. Courtesy When I'm Her

New Documentary "When I’m Her" Shows How Madame Olga’s Positive Affirmations Can Transform Ballet

Michael "Mikey" Cusumano was a rising star at American Ballet Theatre in the 1990s, joining the company at 15 years old and dancing principal roles by age 16. But the high pressure of ballet proved detrimental to his emotional and mental well-being. "I couldn't find the joy in ballet anymore," says Cusumano.

After 10 years as a professional ballet dancer, Cusumano transitioned to Broadway, where his alter ego, a sparkly-turban–wearing Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga, was able to fully emerge. In Madame Olga, Cusumano became the ballet teacher he wished he had growing up. While Olga's classes feature the same technical rigor as any other intermediate-advanced ballet class, they also incorporate her signature humor and positive affirmations. It's common for Madame Olga's students to vocalize those affirmations while dancing (for example, saying "love" out loud while doing an adagio combination).

Keep reading SHOW LESS
New York City Ballet principal and Dance Against Cancer Co-Founder Daniel Ulbricht in New York City's Columbus Circle. Travis Magee, Courtesy DAC.

Dance Against Cancer Is Back With a Starry Outdoor Gala—and It Will Also Be Livestreamed

The annual Dance Against Cancer gala is back in full force this year, bringing major dance stars together on Monday, June 21, to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Held in Lincoln Center's outdoor Damrosch Park, it will be New York City's largest in-person ticketed event since the onset of the pandemic. And for the first time, this year's gala will also be livestreamed by Nel Shelby Productions for international audiences. The evening's finale—a tribute to first responders, medical professionals, educators, mentors and other heroes who have lost their lives to cancer or are battling it—stars special guest Kevin Boseman, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Martha Graham Dance Company, a cancer survivor, and the brother of the late actor Chadwick Boseman.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks