Second Company, Professional Division, Trainee Programs (Part 1)

How common is it for dancers to join second company-like programs in 26 American ballet companies?

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Over the past decades, various programs have popped up bringing students straight out of training schools into company life. These programs take students in their late teens to early twenties when professional ambitions are more or less concrete. These have various names – second companies, studio companies, trainee programs, professional divisions, and fellowships. Increasingly, companies and their affiliate schools are adding additional tiers to this pre-professional / professional “twilight zone” (like Joffrey Ballet in Chicago adding a studio company alongside their trainee program a few years ago). While some of these programs have stipends, others are uncompensated. The benefit for ballet companies is clear but how do these programs work out for dancers and their careers?

We had first companies – what about second companies?

The 26 companies include New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet West, Kansas City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Washington Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Texas Ballet Theater, Colorado Ballet, Sarasota Ballet of Florida, Ballet Austin, Charlotte Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Richmond Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Milwaukee Ballet. Statistics are underestimates as San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West incompletely list second company information as of 2020-2021.

  • Out of 1022 dancers in the 2020 – 2021 season for 26 ballet companies, 501 (49.0%) previously joined at least one of these programs.
  • Of the 501, 77 dancers (15.3%) attended two or more of these programs.
  • Dancers who went to a program were more likely to be a newer dancer in their company. Going to at least one program is a trend seen more with more recently recruited dancers (generally younger) while going to more than one is an even newer trend.

In previous posts, we saw that entering into the top 7 American ballet companies from either a non-affiliated school or an outside company is difficult (https://datapointes.com/2019/06/15/a-brand-name-ballet-education/ and https://datapointes.com/2021/01/21/hiring-revisited-part-2/). We have two unanswered questions on the role of second companies:

What percentage of students in a second company-like program went to an affiliated school?

167/501 (33%) of dancers attended the affiliate school before joining the program.

This indicates that second company-like programs are an opportunity to transition from an unaffiliated school into a program that feeds into a company. However, this also indicates that students at affiliate schools face great competition for spots in these programs from non-affiliated students.

What percentage of dancers in an affiliated second company-like program are still at the company?

343/501 (68.5%) of dancers who went to a second company-like program are still at the affiliated company.

The above data suggests that second companies can act as a reliable pathway to joining a company even if you didn’t train at their affiliated school.

Different pathways for different programs

In this diagram, we can see that the outcomes for second companies can be radically different! Some programs recruit heavily from their school AND provide a reliable path into the main company (San Francisco Ballet Trainee). Others recruit from external schools but bring second company members into main companies (Pennsylvania Ballet II, Colorado Ballet Studio Company, Pittsburgh Ballet School Graduate Program, and Ballet West II). Others balance external and internal program recruitment and are good overall at getting members into American ballet companies (American Ballet Theatre Studio Company and Houston Ballet II).

Choosing the right program

Based on what we’ve shown, choosing the right program can greatly influence the trajectory of a dancer’s career. Here are a few things to keep in mind while choosing:

For some companies (mostly in the top 7), joining a second company-like program can be your best bet of ever joining a specific main company – especially if you didn’t train at their affiliate school. If you know what your dream company is, prioritize getting into their program as early as possible or take the risk of being locked out further on in your career.

Try to choose programs which have high hire rates out of second company-like programs. Your ultimate goal as a prospective professional dancer should be to get a job, regardless of whether its at the affiliated main company or not. Aim for programs that have good track records for dancers (Data Pointes will update you with this type of info)!

Anecdotally, the last summer intensive before graduation from ballet finishing school is important for second company placement. While some programs have open auditions and audition tours, many still have a selection process based on summer intensive performance (which has its own costs). Choose the last summer intensive before graduation wisely to maximize your chances!

In future posts, we are going to explore second companies more – ranking them based on alumni outcomes. Stay tuned! – J

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