Hiring Revisited (Part 1)

What are the hiring practices of different American ballet companies?

Last time we looked at hiring and dancer retention, the focus was on the top 6 companies for the 2018 – 2019 season (https://pointes.data.blog/2019/05/12/youre-hired-fired/). This year at Data Pointes, we’ve followed up that data but also expanded analysis to the top 22 US companies (well, really 25 but some companies had incomplete data). We’ve quadrupled our data! What’s happened in a year?

Changes in the top 6 companies from the 2018 – 2019 to the 2019 – 2020 season. Overall, company size stayed the same. Note that these overall changes are influenced by hiring, firing, and promotions.

Dancers Come, Dancers Go

There were 421 in the top 6 companies last season – now there is 428.

Across these companies, 373 dancers stayed for both seasons. 48 left. 55 joined. 39 promotions.

Where did the 48 who left the top 6 go? Which companies hired the most dancers? Who got promoted?

There’s a lot to unpack here and we’ll do that in the follow up post, Hiring Revisited (Part 2). Of note, hiring and firing rates matched what we estimated last year using ‘Reported Year of Joining the Company’ – roughly 10%. Last year 11.4% of the company left while 12.9% were new hires. Again, massive turnover for a high skill job.

Not All Companies are Created Equal

Looking at the 2019 – 2020 Season, we see trends similar to what we observed for last season. As a general principle, Balanchine companies (New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet) generally retain dancers over longer periods of times, creating job stability for a select few. Other companies have aggressive hiring styles, moving through dancers quickly. These are companies like Pennsylvania Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Dayton Ballet, and Charlotte Ballet. I suspect these companies are hiring recent graduates from premiere training schools – boosting or maintaining quality while keeping dancer salaries relatively low (fewer raises over time). It’s definitely something we can investigate in future analysis.

Long Term Prospects

Ranks broken down by Years in the Company. This plot shows how long dancers have stayed in any of the top 22 companies by rank. For each rank, 50% of the dancers are located between the dotted lines. For example: if you’re a corps member, there’s a 50% chance you’ve been with the company between 2 to 6 years.

With the new dataset, we have information on 1169 dancers in American ballet companies. When we sort them by rank, we get a feel for how long it takes to rise to each rank.

Your career is almost certainly over after dancing 25 years, probably earlier. You’ll only get to this point if you make it to principal dancer. If you started at 18, that puts you around 43 years old. Between 18 and 43, you spent a year or two as an apprentice. You got a few roles those seasons and caught the artistic director’s eye. Congrats, you’re now a corps member! You do your due diligence in the corps, filling roles in endless Nutcrackers or covering for cast members who get injured. They start throwing you some soloist roles and after three to five years, they decide to recognize your talent by promoting you to second soloist.

You’re now a cut above the rest but you largely do the same corps roles you did before. This is the real grind now. You claw your way up to soloist by sheer force of will. You have clout now. Should you switch companies to try and get to principal faster? Do you stick it out in the same company? Your soloist compatriots have either been at this rank for what seems like an eternity or are fresh-faced prodigies still wearing their school leotards.

You stick the landing. They promote you. You have now reached the zenith – the Principal™. The work, the luck, the days spent stretching have paid off. Juicy role after juicy role until retirement! Think back to all the people who helped you make it and those who didn’t make it. This is the story of American ballet. – J

P.S. Dancers wish the path was as straightforward as I made it seem. Life and ballet are terribly winding, non-linear paths. Anyways, more content on the way.

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