The Big Ten (international schools)

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. 1. Paris Opera Ballet School or to be accurate, Ecole de l’Opera National de Paris, is actually the oldest. The school itself is impossible to get into, and because they are state subsidized like most companies, they can be extremely picky on who they take. Not only is the training ridiculous, but it is based on a points system, and only top marks move on. Now, the bigger question… Why don’t we see a lot of French dancers in the US? The answer is simple, they were made to dance for Paris Opera, and if they don’t get in, they usually don’t want to dance for another company…. Or if they do, it is usually a cutting edge ballet company with a contemporary flare. Paris Opera Dancers can be spotted a mile away for their impeccable control of turn out, their specific style of arms (very relaxed), and their calm attack to ballet.

paris opera ballet boys

2. The Vaganova School… The fact that a style is named after them, or pedagogy, it should say something. Like Paris Opera everything is based on the rigorous challenge of first getting in. At the entrance exams not only is the child looked at, but radiographs of their bones, and their parents’ bodies are taken into consideration. This is to guess height, hip width, etc. The school itself is notarious via youtube for broadcasting their graduating class exams, in which students perform the most ridiculous barre and center combinations you will ever see. Regardless, go Russia. This can be seen because it seems that in Russia, everyone has beyond 180 turn out, ridiculous extensions, the soft arabesque arm and most importantly they have the most glorious necklines.

vaganova school boys arabesque

3. The Royal Ballet School, conveniently and beautifully located at Covent Garden. (Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city.) Royal Ballet also has their particular style and thought process behind ballet, don’t confuse this with RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). The Royal Ballet school is known to recruit students from the YAGP, VARNA, IBC, the Prix de Lusanne and so forth. Usually, if a dancer enters the school from a big competition win, they end up in the company. One of the prizes at the Prix de Lusanne happens to be a company spot at Royal Ballet. Royal ballet is known for softer and subtle arms, romantic like arabesque placement, and meatier legs compared to the the two prior. royal ballet school graduating class

Now… are has an American School taken place number 4? Nope, I think not.

4. The Rest of the Russian Schools, take place number 4. This includes Bolshoi State Academy and St. Petersberg academy. Russia has definitely turned out powerhouses and they are proud of it. We should be thankful to them, and be more grateful that they don’t all come over to the US and audition for jobs, because then everyone would be unemployed. Hahah.

5. CPYB, if you don’t know what that stands for it is because they aren’t attached to a company. It stands for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Headed and founded by Marcia Del Weary, CPYB seems to have the most active principals from a school in the US. The training is impeccable, and anyone can go. If you have a young son or daughter, send them there for a summer. They don’t audition. They accept everyone and turn everyone into a powerhouse dancer. Look at a lot of current American Ballerina’s bios… They are probably from CPYB…

6. School of American Ballet, or the notorious SAB. Founded by Balanchine, and the school of New York City Ballet, this might be argued as one of the hardest schools to get into. And they are known for one thing, the Balanchine Aesthetic. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the school, like Vaganova, Royal and Paris Opera, there is a very specific style. How can you spot an Balanchine or SAB dancer? Their hands (the claw), their crazy turn out, the way they take their bow (they break to 3/4 pointe and turn in), and their aggressive attack on musicality. Most of the dancers from School of American Ballet will find a job in another Balanchine like company.

7. NBS, Canada’s National Ballet School, the feeder school to National Ballet of Canada. Housed at the newly remodeled Celia Franca Center, NBS is known for creating extremely artistic and articulate dancers. What is really nice about this school is their Post-Secondary education program. This program is for dancers who have already graduated from school but need that one or two years of refinement, strengthening, and preparation for company life. In the US we call it second companies, but in reality a second company is a free corps. This is an actual program for dancers to utilize.

8. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also known as JKO. It is a newer school compared to the rest. In fact it was founded in 2004. It is the school to American Ballet Theatre and headed by Franco De Vita. This school is ridiculously known for their bravura dancers. Like most American schools now, the emphasis on turns and jumps are stressed here. The JKO school partnered with ABT’s Misty Copeland have started Project Plie, a program to help young minorities get the training they need to succeed in the dance world.

9. San Francisco Ballet School, so it was a toss up between the following schools because each are incredible: San Francisco Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Boston Ballet School. Each one is extremely unique and satisfying for any young dancer. It is also convenient that they are spread across the US. You might be thinking, well if you are going to group those schools you should also at Houston Ballet Academy, Miami City Ballet School, and maybe even Orlando Ballet School…. Wrong. You probably are thinking they are on the same level because their companies are on that same middle field. You are quite wrong. Their schools are incredibly different, and San Francisco, Boston and PNB are known for creating extraordinary dancers. Their dancers all are usually very classically based, with a touch of Balanchine in moderation. These schools push their kids extremely hard, and if they don’t join the company the actively seek work for them at other companies. ????????

10. Again, I have to lump these schools into a group because I like to call them the flashy schools. The Rock School for Dance Education and the Joffrey Ballet School. Both of these schools are very public and active in seeking students through the media. In addition, they strive for competitive edges in the ballet world. The Rock School probably has the most competitors at the YAGP, and usually they finish well. Joffrey actively seeks multi-faceted, and genre-versatile dancers into their school. So, there it is…. my Top Ten (ish) ballet schools in the world. I was going to include Denmark’s because of the Bournonville style, but realistically, the school doesn’t produce as many dancers as the others. I judge a school by the dancers they produce, the technique that they teach, and how many of their students go on to get jobs. That is the important thing here…

40 responses to “The Big Ten (international schools)”

  1. I like the way you write but I do not understand why you did not mentionate La Escuela Nacional de Danza in La Habana, Cuba. Cuba is the most important dance diaspora in the world. Every important dance company has a cuban dancer. Is it because they are socialists?

    • Actually, I love the school at National Ballet of Cuba, and it is great whenever the US or the world in general gets to see them on tour, and those who defect and join US companies are amazingly brilliant. I did not include that school since it is basically impossible for dancers to go there to train.

      • It’s actually not terrifically difficult for a well-prepared American dancer to train at the the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. I have several times, legally, and toured there as well.

    • I am very confused on why The National Cuban Ballet School was left of the list. The impact of its graduates is visible in many companies around the world and has been for many years. If you left it off because of political reasons it was a poor decision. No mater what your political views are it does not take away form the exceptional National Cuban Ballet School and its National Ballet Company.

      • Again, if you read my comments I apologized and said it should have been number 5 on the list. And my political views had no influence on the list. Please read all the comments below regarding the choices that were made

  2. CPYB certainly did qualify to be in the top 5 over the last 40 years, but all the teachers that made it great have left, 2 last year, and have not been replaced, the 20 class a week work ethic is not evident and Marcia is 77 and spending less time teaching. It is not the same school that produced all those wonderful dancers.

    • Mr Gill, I actually quite agree with you. And that Mr. Hineline has moved to Ballet San Jose is a big change as well. I do think though that their ideology and approach to ballet is extremely beautiful, and the fact they allow anyone to come and train is amazing as well.

      • Mr Hineline’s move to San Jose is for the best. He focused too much on the schools image and performances to gather donations, and not at all on the school itself. The open enrollment has always been a school focus, but without the teachers to mold them, they now gain little by being there and therefore don’t stay long. Marcia’s personal desire for teaching anyone at the door is and has been as you say ‘beautiful’ but it is not being focused on anymore by the administration. The word now is money not quality. I went through this school and my son did also, my professional career is over but his is active. What has happened to this school in the last 10 years just makes me cry.

    • I have a son who is currently om a men’s scholarship for 2 yrd at CPYB — yes, Leslie is gone and Laslo is in NYC, but Nick is fantastic with the men. Also, my son and all his other scholarship men put in 45+ hours in the studio and gym every week. He has MORE than 20 classes. AND the collaboration between other alumni and CPYB has been fantastic. Just last week we had Daniel Ulbricht , Jonathan & Abi Stafford, now Francis Veyette etc, so I agree it IS different and it IS changing for the better. I do not think it’s suffered greatly — more like “growing pains”

      • Well Melanie, I am happy that you are happy with what you are getting from CPYB for free. But since you are new, I think you lack perspective on what the school was, which was the thesis of my comments. My premise is that it does not still qualify for a top ten listing of schools. How can you possibly state that it ‘has not suffered greatly’ without ANY background or history. My history with it goes back 40 years. I also question your ability to judge the ability of a teacher. How many men’s classes have you personally taken? Nick’s ‘wonderful’ training is also building too much muscle on the girls. Being a parent does not make you an expert on ballet training. You want to see a good men’s program, check out Patel Conservatory in Tampa under Peter Stark or SF. One last point, the involvement of the NYC alumni was a Summer course thing. Summer course is completely different from the normal academic year, If you honestly believe that any program can ‘grow’ by not replacing two of its primary and most talented teachers, then you are living a dream. Remember, invariably you always get just what you pay for.

    • This of course is an arguable point and whether right or wrong nothing can take little away from what the school has acomplished over the past half century, its impressive. One very valid point to be made is that many who may have moved on as well as an impressive list of alumni, are now taking this legacy elsewhere and building on its foundation in the interest of giving back. There are many examples of this emerging even in some of the most unlikely places such as Sedona AZ, where Tracy Julias, former principal with the Joffrey Ballet, and C.P.Y.B Alumni dating back to the days of the barn, has opened the Northern Arizona Youth Ballet. This new Ballet School offering very much honors the legacy of C.P.Y.B. as do a growing number of others.

      • I absolutely could not agree with you more. CPYB has been and continues to be a major influencer of my life and my family’s life. It is such a shame therefore that it does not have a policy of bringing back alumni to continue the teaching heritage, to learn the teaching techniques that so successfully affected their lives directly from Marcia. The best teachers have left, and the less talented hang on. Allen did some notable things in his tenure as CEO, but he has allowed the school to stagnate. The entire middle levels of the school left at the end of the 12-13 academic year along with half the upper class. Most of the rest of the upper levels will not return this fall. They are leaving because they know the are not getting the level of training from the remaining staff teachers that they should. As mentioned the focus is selling the image and a lot of money in donations has come in. Unfortunately, NONE of that money has been put back into hiring the next generation of CPYB teaching staff. It is unfortunate that soon, Marcia will be gone and there is no effort to pass on her teaching technique. Only one other teacher in the school uses her teaching techniques, all the rest do their own thing. The scholarships that they offer like the men’s program are great, but the technique and polish that characterized CPYB in the past does not ooze from the floorboards into the students. Dedicated teachers teaching a consistent program is the only way to accomplish that and that is gone. I live this school, every day and it hurts to see it decline.

        I will be more than happy to argue with anyone about anything I have written in this comment and others. I can only hope that education of what is really happening at CPYB may bring pressure to make the changes that desperately need to be made. The slick marketing plan is a product of Allen, but caveat emptor, all that is glossy is not real.

    • Thomas,

      My daughter is a year round student at CPYB. Can you advise a better program for a teen girl? Often she only has one technique class and then she is scheduled for rehearsal all evening. I feel she needs to have a pointe class everyday.

      • Well, since my previous comments got me banned from the school, a school of which I am an alumnus, I am not sure I should expound on them, but there a number of fine schools out there that still hold quality as their goal. It is unfortunate that CPYB is not still one of them. I do know that you still have at least one staff teacher that if asked will answer your question far better than I can. I also agree with your time and class assessment, School is the place where a dancer learns technique, not in rehearsal or on stage. That was CPYB’s strength. Unfortunately the past CEO and his successor found that donors like performances and turned the school into a performing company. Money is the current driver, which is why your child is in rehearsal so much. Four major performances a year for a school are two too many. They are constantly in rehearsal, when they need to be in class. And that goes to the lowest levels. Personally I would not allow any student below level 4 to be in more than two performances a year. Also, there seems to be no plan to recapture that lost excellence. The are actually hiring new teachers that have little to no teaching experience. Ex dancers know how to dance, not necessarily how to teach basic technique. The best were naturals and have little idea of how they learned, they just did it.
        I wish you the best of luck. Your teen is in the right school, unfortunately about 10 years too late.

      • Honestly mr. Gill, you should talk about it… By not talking about it we are only contributing the problem and not fixing the bad, and forgetting the art form…. Ballet has turned into politics and not just among Dancers but the entire world is talking about ballet. Now is a great time. Also sorry about the prior comment not being approved there are so many negative comments a day on the blog I’ve just stopped looking at them all together, lol

      • Thanks for your support Mr. King, but it’s not my school and they are going to do whatever they want for their own reasons. It is just unfortunate that they are riding on the coattails and reputation of a truly great school without understanding what made it great or really doing anything to perpetuate its strengths. It will quickly end up as just one more mediocre ballet school.

  3. What about Germany? The Hamburg and John Cranko Schools, in Hamburg, and Stuttgart respectively, are definitely among the top 10. I’d also put the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, NL, as well as the Australian Ballet School, Royal Danish Ballet School and Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

    • Hamburg and John Cranko schools are both brilliant and should have taken the JKO spot and the “show stopper” schools. The Danish Ballet school I mentioned above and talked about Bournonville Technique. Royal Winnipeg is super great as well, and probably should have been lumped in with NBS, but I didn’t. Sorry that my list has offended so many people.

  4. Would love to hear your thoughts on The Harid Conservatory in Florida. Considering its size, they have produced quite a roster of professional dancers, the list at ABT alone includes principals Marcelo Gomes and Isabella Boylston.
    Also, I think it’s great that many are opining — and I don’t think anyone was offended by your point of view, which we all understand to be just that, your opinion, and not fact. Thank you for doing this and let’s keep the conversations going!

    • There are hundreds of ballet schools that are amazing… kirov DC, Harid, and hundreds of others, like I said, this was just by opinion. I actually think the dancers from Harid come out quite strong, and the fact they are attached as an education system, not just a ballet school is great. I will post more about it on another date. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I love the conversation. I think a major criteria for a great school is if the can teach and produce professionals from beginner through pre-professional. Most of the schools like Harid, SAB, etc., who can produce a nice list of professional alumni are just finishing schools. This was a strength of CPYB in its day. A major proportion of its professionals started at 5 or 6 and 10 years later walked directly into a company with impeccable technique, a matchless work ethic and a strong stage presence.

    • Dear Mr. Gill, I appreciate this comment has my e-mail is now full of the most ridiculous e-mails full of curse words, and the most random things. I appreciate that your comments are intelligent and well thought out.

      • Sorry about that, but not surprised. Ballet as an art is about ‘floating controlled movement’ to be appreciated by those who had some class. Unfortunately, it has moving a lot closer to your football analogy, competition and money.

  6. IM Sorry, who was the douchebag who put this together. I thing there are some great schools in america but how so many made it to this list astounds me!
    Americans as always blowing steam up your own arses.

    • Indiana University is the only strictly ballet program that I am aware of that attracts top talent and has a large percentage of its graduating class enter professional companies every year. There are several colleges with excellent dance programs (off the top of my head: Juilliard, NYU, SUNY Purchase, Butler U, UNCSA, Utah) but their main focus may not be classical ballet.

  7. I think that, without a doubt, this is an interesting conversation. I’d like to comment that although training in Cuba might not be an easy option for Americans, dancers from other countries (say Latino dancers, for instance) do have relatively easy access to training in Cuba. So, while you may choose to leave it out of your ranking for other reasons, the criteria of not including La Catedra de Danza del Ballet Nacional de Cuba because of what you say in a previous comment of it being “basically impossible to dancers to go there”, is biased to your base group. While I do not have precise statistics of how many foreigners go there to train, I do know many that have. (I even went myself for a two-weeks intensive). I am not saying this with an offensive tone, but just with the intention of complementing the informative nature of your essay.

    • I very much agree with you, and the school at national ballet of cuba should have been number 5 on the list. And bumped everyone down… The surge of latin American Dancers in the US, and internationally right now is huge.

  8. I just would like to point out that your article should read THE BIG TEN (INTERNATIONAL BALLET SCHOOLS).

    There are a few schools that focus on the modern dancers that are equally as big (Julliard, Codarts, The Place, etc,,,)

  9. This list is absolutely the worst! First of all, the Vaganova Academy puts out great female dancers but the Bolshoi puts out both wonderful Male and female dancers! Furthermore you have got to be kidding about SAB, poor technique, Balanchine? He has ruined the training in the US….you cannot break rules in ballet, if you do not have a grasp on what you are breaking!
    The Cuban Ballet are the best in turning, even the Russians are trying to figure out what the Cuban Ballet is doing in this regard! The Royal Ballet is terrible. Do you realize that all the training in the USA is bad overall. Parents have been duped! Most of the principal roles in companies are all taken by foreign dancers raely by US dancers! It is the training here…not good. The only place to train in the America continent is Canada’s National Ballet School….they are getting it!….

  10. “Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city”

    Sorry to be picky but the Paris opera school is not in a glamorous area. It used to be, but now it is in the (near) suburbs of Paris.

  11. I would just like to thank you for including Canada’s National Ballet School in this list, having trained there for an extended period of time I can say with confidence that it’s training is truly in a league of it’s own. It is a pity that it is constantly overlooked and underrated, aswell that it is commonly lumped together with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School which although it is a good school is no where near the rank of the National.

  12. Hey, I actually think you put a lot of thought into this and your reasons are well thought out. It’s good to see what’s out there in the world of ballet schools…I have been out of the loop way too long to have an opinion so I’d rather someone who’s still “on the scene” give some guidance.

    My now-amateur ballet brain feels validated to see remarks about NYCB not being the all-time best school however. I feel like the Balanchine backlash started sometime in the 90s. Turns out a lot of directors don’t really like our claw hands, deep plies for pirouettes, or our tendency to choreograph so much in petit allegro. Ah well…that was the training I knew of, and the companies I had that wanted me, back in the pre-internet days of ballet. Lucky students and professionals today – there is a whole world at their fingertips to research and choose from!

  13. There appears to be a lot of schools that you haven’t mentioned. What about Stuttgart School of Ballet? I’d certainly rate it along with a number of others well above any of the so-called flashy dance schools. Is there actually a real list of the top ten International Ballet schools out there?

    • Hello there, they made the 2015 year… Their 2014 graduates didn’t really go anywhere and didn’t have company contracts in June. Stuttgart’s school is cranko’s school who I have the upmost respect for. They made the 2015 list as that graduating classes extremely strong. For example for 2016, paris opera graduates are not strong where royal ballet’s graduating class is phenomenal