How Corona Virus is Shaping the Next Generation of Dancers

Today hit harder than most days. A wave of devastation came across hundreds of young talented dancers as some of the most prestigious ballet schools announced they are canceling their summer intensives. Earlier in the month Houston Ballet already made some tough but responsible choices regarding their summer course, but today Royal Ballet and San Francisco also announced their program cuts. While this is devastating to hundreds, it is the socially responsible thing to do. But how does an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old cope and deal with understanding the larger picture, a picture that not only includes ballet but the entire world?

As a school director, today devastated my students as our entire school was committed either San Francisco Ballet School or Royal Ballet. While our YAGP winners were already devastated earlier this month from the canceling of finals, today was another hard, but expected blow. We had already proposed a stay at home summer course for our students, but it doesn’t compare to the opportunities that were going to lie ahead of them. Most of the winners of YAGP have already committed to international courses across the world, and now they are left with nothing. A year’s worth of hard work gone to the wayside, thousands of dollars in competitive fees, tutus and pointe shoes are now wasted. While these are only short term goals, it is still devastating.

For a lot of young dancers, who are now 17-19, they are realizing that their dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer might not ever happen as companies are announcing their budget cuts and financial strains. Professionals are now questioning their job security and what the future is going to hold for them. And while this economy has tanked, the economic and social trends of ballet and the world have been sped up tenfold.

So what does this all mean?

Ballet for the Masses: Companies are finally realizing what I have been saying for a long time… BROADCAST your performances for a fee. People will pay! So if you are in Los Angeles you now can watch New York City Ballet and so on and so forth. City Ballet will be broadcasting Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Wendy Whelan Lecturing and teaching movement classes. But this now just exponentially opened up your ticket sales. The world can now watch ballet from anywhere at any given time, and while it doesn’t replace the magic of live theatre, it does increase ticket sales by demographically… billions… So if you are an ED or AD out there, I hope you listen and take advantage of what is about it come.

Big Names & Big Talent: With everyone now on social media, and social media numbers being driven up 300% on Instagram and TikTok becoming the fastest growing platform, social media is now more important than ever. Star-studded live classes with principal dancers are selling, but now, taking alongside start-studded students is a BIG thing. Those who are on social media and these kids are becoming more and more circulated and more and more recognized, meaning these are the names that will be driving ticket sales in 3-5 years if not sooner. So, don’t miss the bandwagon. If there is anything that COVID-19 has taught us is that the “influence” you have on social media really does matter. The bigger the name, the more likely a company will be reaching out to you to “collaborate” or “virtually teach” or “virtually take class with”.

VIRTUAL BALLET: While Virtual Ballet is now becoming more and more of reality, and that people are now realizing they can train just about anywhere, or take private lessons from many principal dancers and top coaches, ballet is becoming even more elite and even conservative. Ballet Schools are now recruiting left and right as they can now virtually see thousands of dancers in a week and recruit into their schools.

The rise of the Powerhouse Schools: Ballet schools around the world have always been categorized into three categories. Whether or not we like to admit this or not, it is truth. The categories have always been:
A Professional School (A school with a pre-professional program attached to a professional company)
Competitive Commercial School (Intensive comp schools that are industry-based driven and placing commercial and contemporary dancers into broadway jobs or agencies)
And recreational, or as a lot of elite snobs like to call them: the dolly-dinkle schools.

But here is the problem that COVID has made. Professional schools are now going to be falling to the waste side as the quality is going to go down. Trainee and pre-pro programs are going to be flooded with kids to make up for the financial shortcomings of social distancing. It already happened in 2008, and a lot of these schools are still trying to “recover” their training reputations. But, because of this pandemic, we are now looking at an even bigger flood of trainee programs. It is already hard enough to see a once prestigious ballet school with a company that has a historical name in Chicago had over 30 Trainees this season, with maybe 4 job openings. 30+ kids paying 17-30k a year is a lot of dollars… and so this model of flooding trainee programs will now be the standard to make up for the financial losses in ballet.

This means that schools like Ellison, Elite Classical Coaching, Southland Academy, ICSB, Cary, Sarasota Cuban Ballet, Master Ballet Academy, The Ballet Clinic, Central New Jersey, Golden State, Skyra, and others are going to rise to the top as the most sought after training grounds. Programs with exclusivity and pristine training are going to take even more prominence than before, as they continuously produce strong dancers. While these schools are already powerhouse players at the YAGP, and powerhouses on social media, these schools are just continually going to rise to the top.

So at the end of all of this, who is going to have a job in ballet? Over the next 3-5 years the ones who will be getting jobs are going to be grouped into three categories:

  1. Good bodies for the corps de ballet.
  2. Social Media stars who will sell seats, who are technically gifted and that will have the chance to continue to build a name for themselves and become household names. We originally saw this trend 2011/2012 with the documentary “First Position” and the start of the rise of YAGP and Social Media. Now they are soloists and doctors. Now that we don’t need documentaries because we can follow social media stories, it is going to push this trend even faster.

So, while we try to comfort our dancers and tell them everything is going to be okay, we also need to be honest with them, and constantly remind them that this can not crush them into an oblivion and that you must continue to work harder, push harder, and be even more dedicated so that when all of this is over, and the dust starts to settle they will be one of the ones who will be considered for a job. It is now more than ever, that the focus and rigor of ballet can not fade out, it can not take a backseat, and it can not go to the waste. It is time to realize that you either want this 100 percent and you are going to kill yourself to even have the slightest chance at a job, or you are just going to go to college, or that maybe you don’t want this professionally. Regardless, it is only going to get harder to find a job, so you all need to work 10 times harder, and 20 times smarter.

9 Replies to “How Corona Virus is Shaping the Next Generation of Dancers”

  1. Maybe a small ‘light’ to all this is to encourage dancers to have a plan for what happens AFTER their dance dreams end. This is a reminder that aspiring dancers are chasing a financially unstable profession. I never hear anyone help these young student set goals for what they can do after. But isn’t that a critically important task of coaching and parenting? I’ve taken adult classes from former professional dancers who now live meal-to-meal in small apartments, nostalgic for their 5 years in the corps. I’ve also run into former dancers who are now doctors, engineers, and on Wall Street. They look back on their dance careers as a particular folly of youth – fondly remembered but not defining. Parents and teachers are so passionate about helping their students chase their dance dreams. Should we also help them plan some ‘afternoon dance’ dreams too? I have a vision where, someday, my child’s studio also offers career coaching. Where they bring in former retired or failed dancers who can speak to the new generation. What would they have told their 14 year old self? What do they wish they had done differently? How do you plan for a career that ends in your 20s? These are quite complex questions, but ones I wonder if we discuss often enough. Maybe a career-derailing virus can be an opener to such frank talks?

    1. At my school we do career coaching, and at a lot of these powerhouse schools, they do nurture the student and are hyper aware that making it as a stable dancer is 1 in a million. But it is also dependent on the school. I think that’s why a lot of these powerhouse schools are coming up. Honesty and candidness is important. I tell my kids all the time, the odds of this happening are slim to none, but if you want the slim chance you have to work hard everyday

  2. That’s amazing! I wish more schools took that approach. And I agree – it is things like that that separate a mediocre school from an excellent school.

  3. Great read David… as always !! This is also a time for dancers to develop their own creative ability to help the choreographic process. To be able to be a good “tool” in the creative process. I am working on a virtual way to accomplish it. Is a difficult process for some but what a better time in this incubation period to work on this tool. It was the basis of the class I talk at Boston Ballet Summer School for 8 summers

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