How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

WISH follows the career path of Indigo Stevens, a young ballet dancer who wants to become a professional dancer with the top New York City ballet company. One of the first questions I’m often asked is how does one become a professional ballet dancer? Whether you’re just starting out or in your early teens and serious about a career it’s important to have a clear idea of the steps involved. Although no two dancers are alike, there is a solid path that every dancer takes, beginning with ballet classes at a local studio and ending (hopefully) with the ballet company of choice.

Although many dancers begin taking ballet classes when they are quite young, there are exceptions to this rule, like Misty Copeland, (principal dancer with American Ballet Theater) who began dancing when she was thirteen and quickly rose to stardom. Wherever you start taking ballet class, choose a studio you like and a teacher who has had professional dance experience. Work hard in class and practice, practice, practice.

When a dancer reaches age eleven or twelve it’s time to decide if a career in ballet is something you really want. This is also the time where most girls begin dancing en pointe and the commitment level for dance classes increases dramatically from two classes every week to four or five days per week (or more). It’s a critical juncture where girls decide whether they want to keep going with ballet.

Once you decide that you want to be a professional ballet dancer it’s time to take the next step and attend a summer intensive at a professional ballet school. Many ballet companies across the country also run ballet schools where they train up-and-coming dancers. School of American Ballet in New York and San Francisco Ballet School are two of the top ballet schools and the most popular choices for summer intensives but there are many others scattered across the country. Research your options, identify the schools of your choice and audition for their summer intensive. Most schools hold auditions around the country during the winter months.

Generally after completing 1-2 summer intensives a dancer may be invited to stay on as permanent student. This step on a dancer’s path is of the most exciting! Not only do you get the chance to study with top ballet teachers and live and breathe ballet, you may also be living the Big City life in a place like New York or Philadelphia.

Once a dancer is an advanced level student at a professional ballet school, they often get the chance to perform in the end-of-year performance showcase. These are important opportunities for dancers to be seen and hired by ballet companies. Most dancers are offered apprenticeships first–performing with the company for a year before being hired on as a full-fledged member of the corps de ballet.

Those who don’t find work this way need to begin the process of auditioning for companies. There are two ways to do this: 1) research and attend open auditions or 2) contact a company and ask to take company class. Either scenario can work, provided the company has job openings and the dancer is what the company needs at that time. If the audition is successful a company will offer either an apprenticeship or a full contract.

Although the path to becoming a professional dancer isn’t complicated it requires lots of work and incredible amounts of willpower and the ability to handle rejection. It may take dozens of auditions before you land a job. The important thing is to believe in yourself and never give up.

May you dance like the wind and may luck be on your side.


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