What schools are best at getting students into top American ballet companies?
For the vast majority, ballet training does not lead to a sustained career as a professional ballet dancer. To have a shot at the top, you likely had to do at least one of these three things: 1. Go to multiple summer programs, 2. Attend a training program in a major metropolitan city, and 3. Leave/reduce regular school to train.
Any single one of these tasks is a huge commitment – both emotionally and physically. And naturally you want to increase your odds of a career by choosing the right program. So what metric would indicate a quality program to you?
Signs of Quality
As a personal disclaimer, I attended the Harid Conservatory several years ago but guarantee this had no effect on the lists.
Building on the list from the 2018 – 2019 season (here), we have expanded the dataset to include dancers in the largest 26 American ballet companies (by domestic budget from a 2018 – 2019 season report):
- 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.
There were 1014 total dancers with complete information for 943 of them. Most dancers with missing information are from Sarasota Ballet and Ballet West as they don’t include full bios for all of their dancers. We also did not include New York City Ballet apprentices in the analysis as they are technically considered part of the school. Here are the lists:
The first thing to point out is that some dancers attend multiple schools – these dancers add one to the tally for each school attended. Overall, 715 unique schools from around the world trained a dancer in the top 26 during analysis (up from 388 in the top 7 for the 2018 – 2019 season).
We added some new metrics of quality this year – % dancers in top 7 largest American companies and % dancers above the rank of corps. This allows us to examine the “prestige” of spots for each school.
Again, we notice that the top spots are dominated by “affiliate schools” – these are schools that have direct ties to the top 7 companies. Based on our past post looking at affiliate school hiring (https://datapointes.com/2019/06/15/a-brand-name-ballet-education/), we know that certain companies (especially New York City Ballet) heavily emphasize hiring graduates from its affiliate school. However, some of these affiliate schools appear to do well in placing students in top companies period – not necessarily the affiliated company. For the 2018 – 2019 Season in the top 7, only 87 dancers trained at the School of American Ballet were in NYCB that season meaning the rest were in other companies. Similarly, 52 of the San Francisco Ballet School trained dancers were at SFB.
Then, we have the non-affiliated schools. We have recognizable names up there: the Rock School, Royal Ballet School, Harid Conservatory, Cuban National Ballet School, Kirov Academy, and University of North Carolina School of the Arts (again, full disclosure: Harid is my alma mater). These schools have lower numbers but are still capable of competing with some of the other affiliate schools like Boston Ballet. In our previous analysis on the top 7, Royal Ballet School and Paris Opera Ballet School were the only foreign schools on these lists. Now, we see Cuban National Ballet School produces several high ranking dancers not in the top 7 but in the top 26 largest companies. We know that dancers born in the UK or Cuba are not particularly common in top 7 American ballet companies (https://datapointes.com/2019/05/03/where-you-from/). For the Royal Ballet School, they heavily recruit internationally born students, explaining this finding.
Comparing the Male and Female lists, we can notice discrepancies. For example the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School associated with American Ballet Theatre seems to have more of the women they train in top 7 companies than men (69% F to 42% M). Additionally, the only two international schools in the analysis both appear in the top 10 schools for males. Past analysis found that male dancers in the top 7 companies were more likely to be born outside of the US than female dancers (https://datapointes.com/2019/05/03/where-you-from/) which we attributed to the quality of male training in the US. The main takeaway from these two lists are that the quality of male and female training at top schools may differ – something to keep in mind as you choose schools.
Training a student for one year before they move on to a company is different from training a student for several years. We don’t necessarily have the data to distinguish these two scenarios but we can compare our list above with a list of top “finisher schools”, the last school attended by a dancer before going to a main or second company.
We see some major changes to the list. It seems that many of the dancers who attend non-affiliated schools decide to switch schools before graduating. This feeds into the concept of a finishing school, dictated by affiliated companies. The last year of school is a critical period where the student has to translate their training into either a main company, second company, or professional division spot (see our analysis on second companies – here). Affiliated finishing schools have a major advantage in terms of pedigree and proximity, resulting in a greater chance to be noticed by higher ups in one of these top companies while still in school.
None of this means that the quality of training at schools absent from these lists is inferior. These lists only state the most common pathways to top companies – something directly affected by the influence of major ballet organizations. There are a couple of things these lists don’t account for. One is class size. Class size is tricky – too big and the level of individual attention goes down but too small and your raw number of graduates finding jobs goes down. Two is coaches. Some dancers have personal coaches who are hugely influential on certain dancers. Our analysis attempts to account for coaches but naming people in dancer biographies is not a common practice. Three is the information on 71 of the dancers. This might have lowered several school’s positions as many of the dancers with missing training information were dancing at Sarasota Ballet or Ballet West – a potential source of bias.
Was the school you attended on one of these lists?
We have a few analyses in the works – competitions, promotion rates, and recent retires. If you have any requests, comments, or ideas, reach out to us on our instagram @datapointes!