Introducing Data Pointes

The Premise

As a ballet dancer, you start to develop a sense of “what” and “who” ballet is. You’ll see shows, attend summer intensives, and eventually join companies where you’ll discover the type of person who makes it. We all have preconceived ideas about our fellow dancers. But are they actually true? I’ve analyzed publicly-available dancer information to find out who rises to the top of American ballet.

A Personal Interest

I used to be a ballet dancer but have since moved on to pursue academics. I remember clearly the uncertainty there was in terms of career choices. Where should I train? Should I join my dream company’s feeder school? Is it better to climb the ranks of a company or hop around? How long do I stay with a company before I move on? These were all complicated questions that came up with no clear answer.

As someone who now works with data all the time, analysis was the obvious approach to finding these answers. And I think now’s a better time than ever to examine the ballet world. Ballet has been undergoing a slow, prolonged identity crisis. A lot of recent commentary has been dominated by topics such as traditionalism, diversity, and sexism. Although I can’t engage these topics fully due to the limitations of publicly available data, they’ll be kept in mind.

Fun fact: the most common name in top American ballet companies? Sara(h). I guess I’m naming my daughter Sara(h).

Technical Stuff: The Actual Approach

All of the data was gathered from publicly available sources (the company websites). There is a remarkable amount of data sitting there waiting for someone to cook it up. I used R to clean up the data and make the figures. I’ll share the code and data if anyone is interested. I’m hoping to reuse the code next season to compare changes. – J

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