A ‘Brand-Name’ Ballet Education

How does going to a company’s affiliate school affect my chances of being hired?

A hypothetical situation. You go to [Big Shot Company]’s summer intensive. They invite you to join their affiliate school year-round. Teenage you is floored by the immensity of this decision as are your parents. You’ll have to move away from home but you think maybe it’s worth it for a better chance at your dream company. What do you do?

Home-Grown Talent

What I’m alluding to is this question: What are my chances of joining the company if I join their school? Evaluating the effectiveness of a company’s school is tricky. These “feeder” schools are meant to train dancers for a professional career, hopefully within the same company. But we know from past analysis how few company spots open up year to year (read https://pointes.data.blog/2019/05/12/youre-hired-fired/ ). Let’s look at the data!

There is quite a bit of variability in hiring from feeder schools. Balanchine companies stick out (as always) in terms of hiring from their schools – it seems like your best chance of getting into one of these companies is through their school. For New York City Ballet, you’re pretty much sunk if you didn’t go to their school at some point, although their apprentice program is considered part of their school and was included. San Francisco Ballet is the non-Balanchine outlier! They have a very good track record of hiring their students. American Ballet Theatre also sticks out – they hire more women from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School than men. Finally, there’s a mismatch between what I find and what the Houston Ballet states in their annual report. In their 2017 – 2018 season report, they state over 50% of their company dancers trained with the academy, much greater than the roughly 25% found here. That number is likely more accurate as several of the company members still don’t have biographies on the company website, making up the difference. There was a migration of school trained dancers a few seasons back (also in https://pointes.data.blog/2019/05/12/youre-hired-fired/ ), lowering that number of school dancers from what is was in the past. So, overall, it seems that some companies are more dedicated to hiring from within than others.

Follow the Money

I started to wonder who was getting the “biggest bang for their buck”. Who was getting the most out of their schools? We have to think about the functions of these schools. The reputation of the company is meant to attract young talent who can be nurtured to reflect the company’s style. Frankly, this isn’t their only function – they’re a source of money. Which function ends up being prioritized at these brand-name institutions? We can use the publicly available financial information to try and tease out this relationship.

In this figure, it seems companies will spend a relatively fixed portion of their total expenses on the school. There is very little change within this four year time span besides 2016 for Boston Ballet. I decided to look at this in terms of a percent as I figured companies with larger budgets would end up spending more in raw amounts on their schools. Also, because School of American Ballet (NYCB’s school) funds itself, it didn’t make sense to include it as a proportion of the company’s expenses – it was excluded altogether. San Francisco Ballet spends the least percentage-wise; however, in terms of an absolute dollar amount they spend around 1.5x the money Joffrey Ballet does [~$3 million (SFB) vs ~$1.7 million (Joffrey)]. Note that how much they spend has nothing to do with the size of the company – the smallest, Pacific Northwest Ballet, spends the second most percent-wise. This isn’t shown but I also looked at the relationship between expenses and revenue from the school. Somewhat predictably, they are super related and companies opt to spend more on their school if they are making the company a lot of money. But how does spending relate to the number of students they hire?

School budget is only sort of linked to internal hiring! Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet don’t reflect the general trend – and if Houston Ballet‘s self-reported information is correct, they too have a commitment to hiring disproportionate to how much they spend on the school. Again, it’s a bit misleading with NYCB being so far out there. The financial independence of the school really means that the company believes in the quality of School of American Ballet’s students.

The relationship between the academy directors and company directors most likely plays the hugest impact on hiring students. The academy directors should be developing strategies to attract promising students but the company director is ultimately the one who has the final say. This might be possible to look at by examining specific changes in academy directors. For example, Madeleine Onne took over the reins at Houston Ballet Academy around 2016. More recently that spot was filled by Melissa Bowman. If we look at the historical rates before and after changes, we may find that who’s in that director spot is more important than any financial relationship. I don’t have the complete data now but it may be something to look at in the future!

Conclusions

First, let’s address some of the limitations of the data. A big addendum to this is that a student only had to attend the school for a minimum of one year to be considered trained in the school. It wasn’t possible to resolve the information to that level for the whole data set. However, it seems that many of the hires only join the school in their later teen years and train for one or two years with the school. Based on the profiles, summer intensives are a common entry point for these students who get picked up in this manner.

The feeder schools each fit into their companies differently. Some companies rely on them as significant sources of revenue while others favor different funding sources. For some companies, going to the affiliate school is definitely worth serious consideration. This would be New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre (only if you are female), and potentially Houston Ballet. And even if you don’t go to the company’s school, you still have a chance through a second company or trainee program which all of these companies have.

The look at schools isn’t over! Which non-feeder schools are doing the best job getting their students into these top companies? Until next time…

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