As the World Health Organization just announces that the COVID-19 VIRUS is officially a pandemic, the Royal Ballet School cancels its Spring Intensive, just days before international students are set to leave to self-quarantine leaving dozens of hopeful young dancers devastated. This is just a day behind many Ivy League Universities closing for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, with Italy’s mandatory shutdown, students in Italy are left without ballet until at least April 4. Teachers across the world are now posting home videos to help teach their students.
Ballet definitely is expanding and growing and part of that growth is the elusive Winter Intensive. Schools around the world are capitalizing on the need and urgency for dancers to get into shape before audition season and the competition season. Winter Intensives are like mini boot camps to get kids into shape. Pros- more training and a chance to experience different teachers and styles. Cons- Expensive.
Here are some great Winter Intensives happening across the United States. Apply now before it is too late or too expensive to book travel.
Audition Intensive/ Artistry Intensive (Scottsdale, AZ) We still have a few spaces available at the A Ballet Education’s The Ballet Clinic Winter Intensives. This elite, exclusive program is available to 12 girls in each intensive. (click the photo to learn more)
Grand Premier Invitational (Palm Beach, FL) The Grand Premier Invitational is expanding this holiday season to Palm Beach. Hosted by Natalia Bashakatova, this new program is offering a cornucopia of master teachers from the YAGP. (click the photo to learn more)
WINTER INTENSIVE, A&A (Chicago, IL) Chicago’s Russian coaches Alexei and Anna are bringing in YAGP Rehearsal Director Misha Tchoupakov. (click the photo to learn more)
Complexions Winter Intensive (NYC & Dallas) Famed contemporary company Complexions will be offering two intensives this Winter. One in NYC and one in Dallas. (click here for more info)
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.
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?
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.
By now, summer intensives have rounded out their invitations to their year round programs. Now, dozens of hopeful ballet dancers are joining the most elite schools around the world. For those who weren’t asked to stay for the year, the stress sets in about what to do next season. You start to wonder, “Are you are ready to year round, if you are good enough, or if you were prepared?” Yup, all these questions are rambling through our heads causing stress. Parents are thinking or starting to doubt choices from last year, and now the new season is upon us. It also doesn’t help YAGP registration just opened and it seems that half of the venues filled up in three days. Yes, the stress of ballet sets in again. What we thought was a summer break now seems to have disappeared and year-round contracts are due again, Nutcracker auditions are around the corner, and you still don’t have a clear plan. Don’t fret. If you are looking to join a school, here are 20 places to train at this year. Each school offers exceptional training, guidance, and is structured towards a professional career in ballet. These schools are NOT affiliated to a company, but offer amazing training.
(These are listed in no particular order, with the exception of the first)
If you are looking for a place to train at in Arizona, I still have spots open at the clinic. I am looking for students ages 8-11, and 11-13, and 14+. Each group is focused and designed around a specific look, body type, and career path. At Clinic we arrange everything for you, from competition, auditions, audition photos, videos, etc. Additionally, we are focused on finding dancers jobs, and preparing them to go into pre-professional schools. We focus each class in Balanchine, Russian, English and French technique. Each week has a different focus, and the fourth week of each month emphasizes contemporary with a guest residency. There are very few spots left in each grouping, but if you are interested in training with me, you can apply here:
Golden State Ballet and Pilates, San Diego, CA GSBP might be young, but the directors are no strangers to the dance world. Once a Miami City Ballet Ballerina and Boston Ballet dancer, they hosted their first summer intensive bringing in Jaime Diaz (SFB) and Andre Silva (TBT). Their program is a full range from creative movement to professional (ages 3-20). Their pre-professional program includes pilates apparatus, rigorous pointe work, pas de deux and performing. The style is a healthy blend of Balanchine musicality and precision with a strong classical Cuban/Russian base. http://gsballetpilates.com
Burbank Dance Academy, Burbank, CA Headed by Jason Coosner, Burbank Dance Academy is a rising force in the LA Dance scene. This selective program includes everything from jazz and contemporary to pre-professional ballet. The program is designed around versatility and possibilities. The rigor of this program includes multiple hours. Jason just won outstanding choreographer at YAGP Los Angeles. Check out his program at www.burbankdanceacademy.com
Elite Classical Coaching, Frisco, TX Texas is big, and while company schools dominate Texas, Elite Classical Coaching under Catherine Lewellen is a force to be reckoned with. Elite Classical Coaching’s program is extremely elite, as she hand selects students to be grouped together. This program is rigorous and effective, and has produced a stunning set of dancers including YAGP Finals medalist Ava Arbuckle. https://eliteclassicalcoaching.com/
Maryland Youth Ballet, Silversprings, MD Under a new director, Maryland Youth Ballet has ramped up even more under Olivier Munoz, formerly at Orlando Ballet School. The school focuses on clean and technique and performs several times a year. http://marylandyouthballet.org
Ellison Ballet, New York, NY This coveted award winning school just held their year round audition but is still accepting video auditions until August 1. This elite program requires applicants to be ages 12-19 to join this coveted Russian-based school. https://www.ellisonballet.com
International City School of Ballet, Atlanta, GA Another award winning school with amazing training. and over 10 years of winning and working dancers, headed by Georné Aucoin and Musashi Alvarez. This award winning duo has been turning out strong consistent dancers in a program that is individualized an intense. The one on one training is some of the best out there. Their dancers are easily recognizable by their strong technique, finessed legs, and musical nuances. https://www.icsballet.org
The Rock School, Philadelphia, PA This school has stood the test of time. Each generation brings a new look, a new style and a new passion under Bo and Stephanie Spassoff. This institution has been a long part, if not the original competitive ballet school. With their ferocious training, and wonderful studios, the Rock School for Dance Education still is a thriving and contributing school in the ballet landscape. https://www.therockschool.org/
Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy, Beaverton, OR This power house of a school has made their way onto the scene through persistence and clean technique. Headed by Artur Sultanov, a Vaganova Ballet Academy graduate and Eifman Soloist, this director has curated one of the strongest schools on the west coast. http://www.russianballetacademy.net/faculty/
The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, Sarasota, FL This Cuban Ballet school made big splashes this year with Harold Mendez. But they have been known for strong cuban training, especially for boys. Headed by award winning Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez, this school is a fully enriched program for Cuban technique. http://srqcubanballet.com
Cary Ballet Conservatory, Cary, North Carolina Cary Ballet is headed by Suzanne Laliberté Thomas and was founded over 18 years ago. But, Cary Conservatory’s real powerhouse is Mariaelena Ruiz, 2019’s YAGP outstanding Teacher. The former Rock coach has coached some of the most talented winner of the YAGP and many other competitions. She herself is a Varna winner, USA IBC Jackson winner, and Prix Volinine. Their professional division includes numerous classes, cross training and more. https://www.caryballet.com/professional-training-program.html
Master Ballet Academy, Scottsdale, AZ This power house school has made it’s name on beautiful bodies and the ability to turn. Headed by Slawomir and Irena Wozniak, Master Ballet Academy recruits students from ages 11+ to train in Russian technique. With numerous winners of the YAGP, Master Ballet Academy continues to dominate on social media. http://masterballetacademy.com
V & T Classical Ballet, OC, CA Headed by Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky, V and T is a force to be reckoned with. A long time staple in the Southern California dance scene, V and T has produced winners to the YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, and Varna. Coined as Orange County’s Premier Ballet program V and T is a classical force of nature. http://vandtdance.com
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Carlisle, PA The legendary CPYB is always a great place to train, especially if you are on that Balanchine route. www.cpyb.org
Feijoo Ballet School, Dickinson, TX Another Cuban school has popped up, but this one is in Texas headed by the renowned sister ballerinas Lorna and Lorena Feijoo. This ballet school is curating something new in Texas. While Texas has been dominated by Russian/Classical Training or Balanchine technique this new school is offering a new take and appealing to the latin communities in Texas. https://www.feijooballetschool.com/school
The Rock Center for Dance, Las Vegas, NV Power houses in contemporary and standout at the dance awards, and World of Dance, this new school is dominating the contemporary and commercial scene. What people often forget is that their ballet program is also nice and quite rigorous. https://www.therockcenterfordance.com
Winner, winner chicken dinner. The list is in. The TOP TEN Ballet Schools of 2015.
There is always a great debate when it comes to rankings. Rankings for anything really are always surrounded by controversy, but we love them. While the list last year reflected the number of graduates from a school in principal jobs in 30 major international companies, this year’s list reflects the power, innovation, and the teacher’s that make these schools. This year we have seen the power of the ballet student. At the ballet competition circuit this year we saw super powerhouse and future stars premier to the world, and we were blown away.
BIG NAMES & BIG SCHOOLS
Harrison Lee took top prize at the Prix , he is from Australia. Gisele Bethea made another strong international competition circuit this year. She is a student in Arizona. And while these individuals took home top prizes, home schools like School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the Vaganova School, and POB made surprising debuts for their students.
One of the plus sides of big ballet competitions, are big ballet schools. Scholarships to the most prestigious schools that have made their place in ballet history. Unfortunately though, these dancers don’t make a school. Very rarely does a student start and finish their training at one school, in the US. Sure, in Europe it is more common because there are state schools that feed into the state supported ballet companies, and opera houses. So super stars don’t make schools, and shouldn’t be a factor when deciding the best of the best. Now, when looking at a school, you have to ask yourself, if you are in the US, is it a technical school or a finishing school. For example, School of American Ballet is a finishing school… Yes, it is technical, but the majority of their upper level students are from other schools. Most small studios in the US should be focusing on technique, like learning the basics of turn out, feet, and learning how the body works… This is like CPYB. CPYB you learn all the basics, but you leave to a bigger school, or professional school to finish out your training, and coaching. So this was also taken into consideration, which eliminated off a lot of the US schools from last year.
HERE WE GO… the moment you have all been waiting for…
If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are TEN SCHOOLS that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in…
Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. Last year these schools took the top. This year, we have lumped the three into one category, as the SUPER STAR STATE SUPPORTED SCHOOLS. It really is only fair that the three of them share number one and make room for other schools offering great training, and are more realistic to get into.
Paris Opera Ballet School, Vaganova School, the Royal Ballet School (Upper School). Historically, the three of them have always ruled ballet, and unfortunately I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But, not everyone is meant to dance there. Not everyone is a super turned out French girl, or a leggy skinny Russian girl, and very few boys are going to become the power houses that the Royal Ballet School produces. (Remember, huge headliner names at the Royal Opera are mostly imports from winning huge competitions.) You can’t argue that each of these schools have a very specific style, and produce a very specific look… Regardless if I like the company or school or not…
THE SCHOOL OF AMERICAN BALLET, founded by George Balanchine, SAB is probably the only school in the US that can even resemble a portion of what a state school has to offer. Sure, the Balanchine aesthetic is super specific, and the dancers are very… well American, but that is what is celebrated. The school produces great artists and the faculty nurtures dancers to become artists at a young age. Something the dance world loves. School of American Ballet is the feeder school to NYCB, which is oddly unique in the US.
Her voice is a bit much, she is the corps now… So holla for a dolla…. and how did she not know who the faculty of SAB were… did she just wake up one day and was like I am going to audition for this random school in NYC? You can also watch the first season of strictly ballet about SAB life.
THE JOHN CRANKO SCHOOL, is one of the leading ballet schools, associated with one of the most innovated companies in the world. The Cranko school is known for international power house students. A lot of students after a big win, will decide to attend the Cranko School to hone their technique but most importantly developing the artistry needed to work as a dancer. Then they either join the company or move on. Oh the Cranko school is associated with Stuttgart.
LA ESCUELA NATIONAL DE DANZA, in Havana, Cuba. Controversy. While we left this school off the list last year, a huge heat came onto us. So, let us take a look at the school at National Ballet of Cuba… Just because it is an important moment in dance diaspora, doesn’t mean that it is a good school… Ironically, if we are talking about dance diaspora, we should really look at Russian Immigration changing the world’s perception of ballet through the various wars, and conflicts. But, that is neither here nor there, we are here to talk about schools. While major dance companies have Cubans in their companies, the Cuban school is basically intense Russian training, with a focus on turns… and men. If you look at these high ranked, high profiled ballet Cuban super stars… they are all men. After seeing National Ballet of Cuba in Los Angeles, I wasn’t impressed by their women… Creating strong technical powerhouses, the school produces more men than women. (Many of you wrote in saying I left them off the list last year because of socialism, pff. And those who said it is the most important diaspora in dance, maybe not so much, but maybe over the past 50 years… )
THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET SCHOOL, our friends down under are definitely pushing their way to the international front. With some of the best PR campaigns I have ever seen, the Australian Ballet is a reflection of their school. With a new campaign called project assemblé, the Australian Ballet school will soon have a residence for their students. Despite popular belief the Australian Ballet School is not supported by the state, well it is partially supported by the state. You can audition for the school for placement, but beware, it the application alone is $83 USD.
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET SCHOOL, has truly stepped up their game. With their ranks at the company being filled with some of the most promising ballet dancers of our time, all of these students at least spent two years in the school. San Francisco has always been the West Coast’s center for ballet, but even more so as this season ended. SFB is becoming much more than just a school, but it is becoming a breeding ground for exceptional talent. Rightfully so, since San Francisco Ballet School claims the nation’s oldest professional ballet school. SFB has now rightfully produced a future superstar choreographer, Myles Thatcher who makes his NYCB premier at the Fall2015 Gala. It is more likely for a dancer to go start to finish at SFB than any other school. SFB has turned into a breeding ground for ballet superstars over the past ten years and is causing many students, and competition winners to go there.
NBS, National Ballet of Canada’s School. NBS is a healthy structured school in which students really are prepared for the real world of ballet. Additionally last year, we talked about their program that bridges the last year of school and the first few years of professional ballet life. The school itself has lost some recognition on the international circuit, as they haven’t had a huge international draw lately…. Also in Canada other schools have risen to the occasion allowing more options for Canadians to train at. Mainly speaking about GOH Academy that produced international power house Alex Wong. (They were on the list last year, but so many of you wanted to know why Royal Winnepeg, and GOH Academy were left off… Frankly put, when it comes to NBS, you just can’t compete with them.)
THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL OF DANCE, for those students who are 18, and haven’t found a company contract, there aren’t very many places to go. The Juilliard School of Dance is one of a few exceptionally ranked programs. Another is NBS, number 7 on our list.This University offers dancers a B.F.A for 24 exceptional students. Their program is rigorous but their alumni have joined numerous companies both within the US and abroad. I really, really, really want to encourage dancers after 18, to not give up. There are places to dance, or continue your dance education without feeling like the oldest one in the room. There are various universities and programs that help continue your training and transition into professional life.
THE SUNHWA ARTS HIGH SCHOOL, South Korea is becoming a powerhouse in producing international ballet super stars. So, is it the rice? No. The Sun Hwa Arts High School is the premier school for young people in Korea to attend. Most of these kids are trained to compete on the international level, and then they transfer schools. As mentioned in a previous post, Korean males are required to serve two years to the army, unless they finish first or second at an international competition. Their training is basically Russian training mixed with extreme stretching technique. Much like the Cubans, an integrated Russian technique refined for a specific body type. A lot of the Sun Hwa girls end up at Kirov DC, which is associated with Universal Ballet of Korea. Why are they on the list? Because it is important to recognize that a lot of Russian based schools have created a technique based off of a specific, ethnic body type. In this case it is a longer but narrow torso. So many girls at the prix finals were from SunHwa.
Royal Danish School of Ballet This school reminds me a lot of School of American Ballet… Obviously not the same technique, they couldn’t be more different… This school though has a very specific technique, and very specific style. They produce crazy jumpers. Ironically, the company director is from NYCB. The school is small, according to their website it has roughly 60-70 students ages 6-16 and paid for the by the state.
In the world of ballet, there are three languages. There is the language in which ballet was codified, French. Then there is the language in which interprets ballet, body language backed by emotion. And then there is a language that ballet dancers actually speak, a language of their own, and I’m not talking about French. So, here is the modern vocabulary list every ballet dancer/student should know (part one). These terms you will come across in class, gossiping among your fellow peers in ballet school, blogs like this one, or social media.
Mr. B (noun): AKA, George Balanchine, aka God (just kidding, not really)
The founder of New York City Ballet, and probably the most influential choreographer of the 20th century.
What would Mr. B do?
4 T’s (noun): AKA The Four Temperaments
Choreographed by George Balanchine in 1946 to music by Paul Hindemith.
Dancing 4T’s is really difficult if you aren’t trained Balanchine.
Buiscut (noun or adj):
Dancers with “bad” feet or feet that don’t point.
She has biscuit feet, she’ll never go en pointe.
A La Sebesque, secabesque (noun):
A non existent position in ballet that people with bad technique use. It is a combination of a la seconde, and arabesque.
You are doing a la sebesque dear, you aren’t in jazz class.
1. A dancer who is overly intense about ballet, to the point where it might be unhealthy. Maureen is a bunhead, Eva is not.
1. A dancer’s body in peak shape. Her body is snatched, hence why she is rockin’ a unitard.
Whacked out (adj):
1. Ridiculously flexible He is so whacked out… but only to the right.
AD (noun) aka Artistic Director:
1. The head of a ballet company. She only got the part because she is sleeping with the AD.
Leo (noun) aka Leotard:
1. Appropriate ballet attire, made from mesh, nylon, spandex, lycra or another synthetic blend of fabric. Who wears a white leo to an audition?
________Hands(_____ (adj) + noun):
1. Spatula Hands: hands that look like spatulas.
2. Ovenmitt hands: hands that are shaped like an oven mitt.
3. Hamburger Hands: hands that are shaped like one is holding a hamburger. She is definitely not getting into SAB because of her spatula hands.
1. Hands that have gone through rigorous Balanchine training and are the anti Russian hand. He has claws, you think he is from SAB?
Nut Season (noun):
1. The part of the season in which one must dance in the annual production of the Nutcracker in which they will be overworked, and over rehearsed. Dancers may cringe, or cry if they are at the mall shopping and the Tchaikovsky score is being played during the holidays. The time of the season in which every dancer wants to quit. It is Nut Season, I want to die.
1. The application of a mattifier to match ones skin tone and remove the shine or pink color.
2. When a ballet dancer goes to iHop and dreams of ordering pancakes but orders a salad instead. Gaynor Mindens should always be pancaked, that way it isn’t obvious you are wearing them.
Floor Barre (noun):
1. An awful, but healthy alternative to taking class. It is the combination of ballet, yoga and pilates. I would rather do character than floor barre.
This is just part one, and as I compile list two, please feel free to email me for suggestions.
I have been asked this a lot… and frankly I was avoiding this conversation as it is super subjective. It is like asking, “What is good art?” There isn’t a definitive answer, which is why I try to explain my opinion. First, we have to go over the context in which good ballet is used.
“I just saw Paris Opera Ballet, and that was good ballet.”
This is referring to a company’s caliber. A good ballet company, doesn’t have to be a big ballet company. A good ballet company has to have numerous artists who are all striving for a vision, in a specific performance. I will say, in order to be a good company, you have to have a strong technical backbone, dancers that can actually move well, and all generally have the same sense or approach to musicality. Some would say they all have the same body type, or body proportion but that is a bold face lie. It really is.
“She is a good ballet dancer.”
This is referring to a professional dancer’s achievement within the art. Just because you are technically sound, that doesn’t make you a good ballet dancer. A good ballet dancer isn’t even defined by turns, or leg up, or ridiculous air time (ballon). A good ballet dancer is an artist, someone who shapes their body to the music, and give the technical steps an emotion, a purpose, and place. A good technical ballet dancer just doesn’t fling their body anywhere in a jump, they have a very specific placement, within a time frame, moving in space, with an intent or emotion.
“This is a good ballet program.”
Referring to the education a dancer is receiving. I think this is the big question that everyone wants an answer to. What is good ballet training. So what, your school didn’t make the Big Ten List … There are plenty of great schools out there… like these ones I wrote about earlier… Well, anyways there are actually two types of good ballet schools. There are ballet schools, and then there are finishing schools. A good ballet school is a where you learn your body, turn out, foot articulation, placement, and clean basic technique. If your school doesn’t emphasize turn out in every combination, it probably isn’t a good school, and probably below mediocre… Turn out is the most important thing in ballet… Unfortunately. A good ballet school teaches you how to use the floor, learn a full ballet vocabulary, teach you how to warm up properly on your own, overly stretch you out, condition you ridiculously, teach you about nutrition, cross train you in pilates, yoga and a secondary form of dance, and educate your parents about summer programs, scholarships, colleges, and careers.
Now, a good finishing school is a school that teaches advanced technique and those ridiculous jumps and turns that no one did give years ago.. Haha just kidding, not really. But a finishing school is where a student really becomes a dancer. They learn how to use their technique to really dance. Some finishing schools focus on a specific style, breeding you for their company… like School of American Ballet. Some finishing schools focus on the strength of technique aka Houston Ballet.
It is really hard to actually say what is a good ballet school, because the reality is, a good ballet school will start and finish you in their company. If your school doesn’t have a company attached, what was the point of being at that school? To train their way and leave? It really doesn’t make sense, and at the same time it really isn’t fair. Paris Opera, National Ballet of Cuba, Vaganova School, are prime examples of start to finish schools… At the same time they are all state funded, which is cause for a whole different post in which I am too tired to get into right now. Plus, I am having a conversation via Facebook with a friend about it. Haha.
Buenos Noches everyone— and cheers to “good” ballet.
There really is no secret formula to decide what ballet school is better. You have to remember that my top ten ballet schools was a reflection of history, careers, and outstanding teachers… A lot of people have written in on why I don’t talk about the JKO school, so here I am talking about the JKO on a Sunday Morning with my coffee…
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school is a technical school that is fairly new compared to most ballet schools. American Ballet Theatre is a touring company, so it doesn’t really make sense to have a school… Despite ABT having their own curriculum. The JKO school is a the platform in which numerous students flock to, in hopes of one day joining the ranks of American Ballet Theatre… The problem? ABT is notorious for recruiting their ABT II members from huge competitions. ABTII feeds into American Ballet Theatre. While their students are promising, and a huge amount of talent comes there, I have not really been impressed with the school. Not to mention they are about to open a school in Orange County… Which isn’t a surprise, seeing who sponsored the school… William Gillespie is a huge ballet supporter in California, and sponsors tons of kids to pursue their dreams. Now, with schools on two coasts, it makes you wonder… ABT might just be that smart in terms of generating revenue… Which every ballet company needs…
1. Schools support companies in a huge way. Not only is it the chance to groom dancers to how you want them to be, they financially support the company.
2. Summer programs are huge money makers.. why does ABT have five locations? Joffery have two? Etc etc etc. Boston has two different programs running, and I think the Rock has a total of 3 over the summer…
The problem with big name schools? Their alumni reflects a huge amount of talent because the best of the best in the world are hoping to one day dance for the company. If you look at smaller schools, or schools not affiliated or that feed into a company… Those are great ways to determine how good a school is. I’m not saying JKO is a bad school, far from it. But, while you have all written in about getting accepted into ABT OC, ABT TX, you might need to stop and think about it… really.
Photos are of students at the JKO school by Rosalie O’Connor.
So, a lot of you have asked about ranking colleges, and my opinions on collegiate programs. In addition, you have all left some pretty nasty comments and e-mails regarding my collection of ballet schools. With that being said, this list is in no particular order, and are just some of my observations about dance programs and colleges.
My first question to everyone out there, why are you going to college for dance? Did you not get into a company? Do you want to go into teaching? Are you looking to build an education? Do you want to explore other genres of dance? What is the real motivation for you to go a college? Unfortunately, I believe that most colleges are not cut out with the sufficient ability to help dancers gain a ballet career. Most ballet dancers have already landed contracts by 17-19, and have dedicated their entire life to that career. Some dancers who started late, or need to tweak some things consider and do go on to college but come audition season, they are auditioning and if they do get a company contract, they probably will be leaving their school…. I am not saying it is impossible for a college to equip you with a career in ballet, but it is more difficult. Equipping you with the tools for modern, post-modern, contemporary and performance art… different story. But we are going to focus on ballet.
Indiana Unviersity, offers an entire ballet program which is unique for collegiate programs. Headed by Michael Vernon, their ballet program offers a unique approach to ballet with a strong emphasis in music. I know they have performed ballets from the Balanchine Trust, and they offer the pre-collegiate program for young dancers who want a higher caliber of training. Most of their alumni list have landed jobs at smaller companies, but regardless… they landed a job and that is the most important thing. (http://music.indiana.edu/departments/academic/ballet)
Butler University, does not offer a major in ballet but offers a major in dance. Their program seems well rounded and offers the following degrees BFA Performance, BA Pedagogy, BS Dance- Arts Administration. They also have a Ballet Russe collection on backdrops and are currently restoring sets, props and some costumes. (http://www.butler.edu/dance)
Southern Methodist University, offers a dance performance degree as well, and offers a well rounded repertory including Balanchine, Limon, and Graham. Southern Methodist University offers a really nice approach to dance, and puts an emphases on ballet. (https://www.smu.edu/Meadows/AreasOfStudy/Dance)
The Barnard School, associated with Columbia, who doesn’t want to go to an IVY, and be in NYC… just the inspiration alone. Just the exposure. Regardless, their faculty list is amazing, and the fact that they partner with numerous companies to help dancers transition is great too. I do believe that this is just a great school in general. According to USNEWS (which publishes all collegiate rankings, Barnard College ranked #32 for National Liberal Arts, which is the only college is a dance program that I like that ranked in the top 50. Ironically Dickinson College, located in Carlisle PA and houses summer students to CPYB is in the top 50 as well, so you could go to college and train at CPYB.)(http://dance.barnard.edu)
University of North Carolina School of the Arts, headed by former American ballerina and beautiful dancer Susan Jaffe, UNCSA is affiliated with NCSA for those of you who are familiar with the NCSA year long program and summer course. Specializing in BFA programs for dance NCSA offers the concentrations of either ballet or contemporary. Their curriculum is strongly mapped out here (http://www.uncsa.edu/vcprovost/bulletin/2014/UG/2014UGdance.pdf)
Again, these are just programs I like but there are tons of great programs out there at SUNY Purchase, Fordham (which is affiliated with the Ailey School, SUPER GREAT MODERN CONTEMP program!!), for you UDA dancers there is University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and University of Louisiana. There are the Utah Schools that are constantly being mentioned, the California Schools, and so on. Regardless, you have to find the right program for you, and do they cater to your intentions of going to college?