How many male and female dancers are in the top American ballet companies?
The most basic of breakdowns. Above is a waffle plot where each square is an individual dancer – categorized by company, gender, and rank. Some straightforward patterns appear in the structure of the companies.
First off, the range in company size is staggering. ABT is over twice the size of PNB! A cursory glance at financial reports from around 2017-2018 indicates ABT has nearly twice the operating expenses as PNB (approximately $45 million to $25 million).
Top or Bottom?
The larger companies are noticeably “bottom heavy“, having more corps dancers than smaller companies with nearly the same amount of soloists and principals. You have more people competing for those soloist and principal spots. Even then, the artistic staff may hire someone as a soloist or principal for their first season. Theoretically, you have a better chance of climbing up the ranks in the more “top heavy” companies but I would hold off on this claim. It’s something better answered by looking at promotion rates between different companies.
Additionally, these corps dancers in larger companies are mostly women. It supports the idea that companies really don’t need many male corps members for their repertoire. Male ensemble dances are few and far between in classical ballet and when they do happen, they lack the same precision and conformity female ensemble pieces have
(in my opinion). Houston Ballet has a lot of these male ensemble dances in Stanton Welch’s choreography but that isn’t reflected in the number of male corps members.
Houston Ballet is the most tiered company with five different ranks of dancers considered part of the main company. Joffrey Ballet, at the other extreme, has no formal ranks. The best system is not readily apparent. More ranks likely means more opportunities for a pay raise. Companies aren’t transparent when it comes to pay but the amount you make should be linked to your rank in the company. Also, ranked systems create expectations in terms of roles. A principal dancer is expecting to dance mostly principal roles with a few soloist parts thrown in per season.
Joffrey claims this last point as an advantage of their un-ranked system. Theoretically, anyone in the company regardless of experience level could be cast in lead roles. As far as I know, this only sort of happens in practice. Certain people are definitely still favored for lead roles like in a ranked company but maybe the climb to get to that point is shorter. Going back to pay, I suspect the un-ranked system forces dancers to negotiate pay more rigorously. I could imagine this negatively affects less skilled negotiators. Again, all speculation.
Break Down the Breakdown
With some basic demographic information visualized, we’ll start breaking down the men and women of American ballet even more (more than a 30 show Nutcracker run). Stay tuned! – J