Top 10 Toxic Ballet Schools

Haha, did you click to read this because you were wondering if your ballet school was on the list? This post isn’t the Top 10 Toxic Ballet Schools, but it is going to talk about whether or not you are in a toxic environment and what contributes to it. This is conversation is already happening behind closed doors and amongst moms, but it is time to talk about it out in the open. 

Closeup of Young Ballet Dancers in a Ballet School / Adobe Stock

All schools are not created equally. There are different schools for different purposes, different schools have different resources. Resources can include everything from financial aid to connections to community programs to performing opportunities. These schools around the world are sometimes overwhelming to navigate or there is a very large amount of pressure to make it into one of these schools. But not everything about these schools are great and glamourous. Sure, the allure of the opera house, the excitement of going away, the inspiration of being around other dancers and seeing company members, even the possibility of potentially joining the company makes it worth while. But behind the beautiful Marley, the floor to ceiling mirrors, the historic halls and the tradition and passion that stood at the very same barres, behind all of that there is the ugly side of ballet schools.

From manipulation, to pressure, to sex scandals — ballet schools are infamously known for their toxic environments. Movies have portrayed these hidden truths, and probably exaggerated them to extremes, but regardless there is some truth to the toxicity of ballet schools. From over involved stage moms, to gossiping, to favors, bribing teachers for roles and solos, the list goes on and on. So let’s take a look at some of these things. How do you know if you are in a toxic environment? What can you do about it?

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I think one of the biggest issues in a lot of ballet schools is the influence of a director or head teacher on a child’s life. Obviously, they know a lot about ballet, but they are not the parent. I think one of the biggest things is making sure the parent is making decisions in a child’s life, and not the director dictating the life of the child/family. These choices can range from encouraging or discouraging a summer intensive, or pushing/holding back a child for financial gain. To be honest, no director wants their student to leave their school, that is money walking out of the door. So there is that factor. I think that there has to be a healthy balance, and healthy trust with a director. But, one of the biggest things that is needed is transparency.

Another thing that is toxic are the students. Don’t get me wrong, every environment can be toxic, but in ballet schools and dance studios, a lot of the times just one bad apple spoils the bunch. One student gossiping out of jealousy or insecurities can quickly turn a school’s environment into a negative spiral, especially if the director continues to show a lot of support of the toxic student and rewards his or her behavior, or doesn’t believe it, or wants to ignore it and doesn’t want to get involved at all.

Finally, another big thing that contributes to an environment going bad is parents. A lot of schools have banned parents from sitting in the lobby anymore because of the gossip. Parents tend to get over involved, over calculated, and overly ambitious. Parents gossiping about other kids is the worst, because they are grown adults attacking small children. One of these problems is parents not having a realistic sense of whether their own child is strong or weak. I am not saying all kids out there are terrible, but you do have to have a sense of reality when it comes to dance, and specifically ballet. 

As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer to fix the problem. But, I think one of the biggest things is not realizing if you are in a toxic environment or being unaware if you are contributing to a bad environment.

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are probably in a toxic environment or contributing to it:

Is your child miserable either before or after dance class?
Does you director or teacher ignore your kid in class, meaning no corrections?
Do you talk about other kids, and follow their career trajectories?
Do you start sentences with, “Don’t repeat this, but…”
Does the director punish or reward students with parts?
Do families who donate money or volunteer more get better parts?
Is your child unhappy with their current dancing abilities?
Does your coach constantly yell?
Has a director ever yelled at a parent?
Have you expressed concern for your child, and you were brushed off?

These are just some of the questions that we have to ask ourselves, because the problems are real. Toxic environments are real, and unfortunately, very few things are done to correct the behavior. I remember working at one school and the director opened the beginning of the year talk with, “You shouldn’t question me, because I know what I am doing. I care about your kids.” 

This was followed by a long talk about trust, loyalty and commitment — all things that I agree are needed in ballet. The amount of work that it takes to be a dancer truly is quite a burden. These opening lines were delivered in sincerity and conviction, but the problem is that the director didn’t live up to those things. Ignoring kids, encouraging kids to not go away, telling kids that they weren’t talented when in reality they are very talented, punishing kids with their level placement, judging kids by height and weight and the list went on and on. These things are all just examples of issues in toxic environments. And these problems aren’t just at elite schools or small schools. It is everywhere.

Finally, one of the biggest concerns I have about toxic environments, is that the right environment for a ballet student can make all the difference. A student in the right environment will soar and progress quickly, while a student who isn’t at the right school might be ignored or get injured. Someone who doesn’t have a pliable body obviously needs extra attention so they don’t get injured, and someone with an overly flexible body will need attention in strengthening and supplementing with pilates. All of these things, including a supportive, mentally healthy environment are contributing factors to finding the right environment for your student. 

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer

What does that mean? It means that if your school’s environment is not for you, leave. I know there is the financial obligation or even the friendships, or even the convenience factor. But the reality is, if the environment isn’t right for the student, remove the student. Even at the Ballet Clinic, we do not accept everyone because we also care about the environment. Someone who has anxiety might not be the best fit at my school as the pressure is quite high. Someone who doesn’t want to pursue ballet as a career wouldn’t be the right fit either. Sure, I could flood the classes with 20+ kids in the room, but I believe that 8-12 kids in a class is enough, as each kid needs individual corrections so they can excel. I am not saying this is the right model, or the only model, I am saying what works for me. We also eliminated the jealousy factor as we do not emphasis competition. If the student/family wants to compete that’s on them. We will coach and prepare you, but we could care less about competing or winning. What matters for us is that you get into a top professional school on a scholarship. Remember, I don’t accept kids over the age of 16. 

Toxicity in dance and the arts is really a big thing, and we do not put enough emphasis on correcting the behavior and eliminating bad apples. 

The Ballet Clinic

Come Train with Me!!! If you didn’t know, I bought a building in Arizona and opening my own school! The school itself can only accommodate 36 dancers. The building is great, completely remodeled with two beautiful full size studios. If you haven’t comitted to a year-round program yet, and you are looking for a place to train, feel free to apply here: CLICK HERE

The Ballet Clinic is a place for serious dancers to come in, get their work done, and get out. Our schedule for advanced dancers is Tuesday-Friday, and optional classes on Saturday. Classes on weekdays start at 5:00 PM. For those who are homeschooled and want extra classes, we offer morning class twice a week.

We are still looking to fill 2 advanced/pre-pro boy spots and 2 girl spots (preferably ages 14+ who are looking to go away to a full-time professional school next fall). In our beginning group, we still have 6 spots left. Our faculty includes: Ashley Baker (ballet), Eric Hipolito Jr (mens, boys,pas de deux), Terin Christopher (contemporary) and myself.

Fall Semester Starts September 9!

The Top Ten Ballet Schools (2018)

Summer is ending, which means it is time to take a look at the BIG TEN issue. This issue features American Ballet Theatre’s Hee Seo and her foundation’s work of the YAGP KOREA. In this issue we will take a look at Ballet Ivy Leagues, the Top Ten Ballet Schools, and some of the best ballet schools you should consider for the 2018-2019 season. Hee Seo

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Ivy League of Ballet

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THE BEST OF THE BEST… TOP BALLET SCHOOLS OF 2017

I see London, I see France, where is the best education for dance?
The Top Ten Ballet Schools in the World copy

It is that time of year again as young hopeful ballet students decide where to go train for the year. This year was a promising year for ballet, as the talent pool keeps growing and growing. What does this mean for most dancers looking to find the top training? It means that the top schools in the world are becoming more and more exclusive. Why is it so important to go an elite school? It offers some of the best training, but it also creates an environment pushing students to perform at their best constantly. Being surrounded by their peers, you can see what the job market will be like within your graduating class. Additionally, being seen at your year-end showcase or show matters, so that you can get a job. That is the goal in the long run, right? So, you have to plan ahead and be prepared.

This year the Ballet Education team was privileged enough to see the top ballet schools around the world work. And after a long day of meetings, debating, arguing, and seeking second and third opinions by the ballet world’s best we have come up with the top ten list of 2017. This year we talked about what happened this year in the ballet world, and how the schools reflect the progression of ballet technique. We also considered employability, size, opportunities, networking, visibility and graduation rates. So, as this is the much-anticipated list from a Ballet Education, we should go straight in.

  1. Royal Ballet School, United Kingdom | Divided into two schools, the lower school being White Lodge, and the upper school, Royal Ballet boasted an extremely strong class once again. As this exclusive school might be the Princeton of ballet schools, Royal Ballet School’s exclusivity reflects the amount of natural talent housed at this institution. Known for their constraint and control, dancers at the upper school continuously prove to be some of the best in the world by landing ferocious jobs and rising quickly to the top. (https://www.royalballetschool.org.uk)
  2. Vaganova School, St. Petersburg | The Harvard of Ballet. This historic institution remains as one of the top producing schools in the world. Not only do they produce large, wonderful graduating classes but also boasts some of, history’s greatest ballet dancers. (http://vaganovaacademy.com)
    Watch their graduation performance here:
  3. Paris Opera Ballet School, France | As the Yale of Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet School was one of the most exclusive schools to go to, but in recent years, POBS has expanded on their international acceptance rate making the French technique and pedagogy a little more relevant to today’s young ballerinas. (https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/artists/ballet-school/admission)
  4. Master Ballet Academy, USA | The USC of Ballet Schools. While there are the Ivies and their historical prestige, young schools are emerging to the top offering elite training and cultivating a newer generation of dancers progressing the ballet technique. While exclusivity runs high to become a Master’s student, Master Ballet Academy is known to take various body types and turn them out to be ballet dancers. Master Ballet Academy is the newest school on the list, but don’t be afraid, they focus on young students, as this year, it was quite obvious on the ballet competition circuit they are a force to be reckoned with. At the YAGP this year, it felt like half of the finalists were from Master Ballet Academy.  (http://masterballetacademy.com) It isn’t too late to enroll in their Grand Prix Intensive. Contact the school as soon as possible to get a spot. (http://grandprixintensive.com)
  5. John Cranko School, Stuttgart, Germany  | The John Cranko School not only feeds Stuttgart, but this fully comprehensive school offers higher education, vocational degrees, and university entrance diplomas. And, if you are German, to board at the school and train, you are paying less than 900 USD a month… Which still beats most small competition studios in the United States. The John Cranko school also boasts one of the best men’s programs in the world, creating strong, versatile and refined male dancers…. everything that a classical male ballet dancer is. (http://en.john-cranko-schule.de)
  6. School of American Ballet, USA | As the feeder school to the New York City Ballet, the historic School of American Ballet offers one thing other companies can’t. The historic legacy and the last significant contribution to ballet pedagogy, the Balanchine Aesthetic. This aesthetic is obviously not for everyone, nor is it a widely recognized form of classical pedagogy (because it’s not), the School of American Ballet picks up where American dance ended. It is the only elite school in America that does not run on the Vaganova, Paris Opera, Royal, RAD, Cuban pedagogies. Making this school one of a kind, and remaining one of the elite schools in the world solely because it feeds the New York City Ballet. (http://sab.org)
  7. San Francisco Ballet School, USA | San Francisco Ballet School boasted a 100% graduation rate this year, and continually proves that they offer some of the best training in the world. Their men’s/boy’s program is one of the best in the country and rivals the John Cranko School’s program. SFB also offers diverse training from Russian to Balanchine, to contemporary and modern, SFB’s curriculum only improves with time. (https://www.sfballet.org/school)
  8. Moscow State Academy (Bolshoi), Moscow | While history will never forget the Bolshoi School, it seems that the Vaganova school has eclipsed the Bolshoi in fame. While the company should never reflect the school, Bolshoi’s press has been up and down, and all over the place over the past few years. With books like Bolshoi Confidential, and movies like Bolshoi Babylon, we sometimes forget about the school to it’s famous sister. It’s like being Solange Knowles to Beyonce. You put out good work and are artistically impressive, but you are overshadowed by your sister’s fame.
  9. Princess Grace Academy, Monaco | This elite school not only claims a prestigious name in history but holds the relevance of being the school to Ballets de Monte-Carlo. In recent years they have been recruiting herd at ballet competitions offering four-year scholarships to young potential students. Because of this, the Academie de Danse Princesse Grace (official name), has cultivated strong talent and nurturing them into companies. (http://www.balletsdemontecarlo.com/en/academy)
  10. National Ballet School, Toronto, Canada | The NBS at National Ballet of Canada always produces clean dancers and is internationally recognized as a leading school.  The NBS is also one of the few schools that is partnering with other schools around the world that offers exchange programs based within their international network in hopes students are able to find jobs as well as, be exposed to as many options as possible. The price tag is quite high for the NBS school as nationals pay about 23K, and international students pay 33K for 9 months of training. (http://www.nbs-enb.ca/Home)

Honorable Mentions & Other Schools that a Ballet Education Considered, in no particular order:
Sunhwa Arts Academy
The School at National Ballet Cuba
Houston Ballet Academy
JKO School
Australian Ballet School
The School at Teatro La Scala
RCPD
Ellison
CPYB
BAE
KIROV DC
The Rock School
PNB
Miami City Ballet
Royal Winnipeg
All the schools in Japan
Boston Ballet School
All the other schools in Germany
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