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Training the World’s Best – Ballet Schools

Posted by Yolande (Lou) Smith | Sep 23, 2019

Where did ballet begin? Its origins date back to 15th and 16th centuries initially starting as entertainment for courts and aristocrats. It was the Italian Renaissance courts where ballet was developed – a formal dance technique combined with costumes, scenery, music, poetry and a dramatic story line. The art form quickly spread throughout Italy to France championed by Catherine de Medici a passionate advocate of ballet, where the performance of ballet (extending from the word ‘Ballare’ which means ‘to dance’) evolved and developed under her aristocratic influence. Catherine de Medici was the wife of King Henry II of France, a champion and patron of the arts, who funded performances in particular her passion for ballet in the French court. Ballet was fostered and popularised as an art form where over time amateurs were elevated to professional performers and touring troupes developed into arts companies. Today, ballet is multi-facet with classical forms, traditional stories and contemporary choreographic innovations intertwining to produce the character of modern ballet.

Training to become a professional ballerina or principal dancer takes years, usually commencing as a young pupil to work one’s way through grades and levels perfecting technique and choreography with the local dance school. To become a professional ballerina its more than tutu’s and tiara’s – its hard work, dedication and competitive, with limited placements on offer to be accepted into a renowned company school to complete final years of training. The education and training to become an elite dancer is 10 years + with many challenges, sacrifices and hard work every day.

Audition into an elite training school requires smart, hardworking and dedicated individuals putting in 100% effort every class. Focus is crucial, attention to detail a necessity, the ability to blend in and then shine when asked imperative, capability to take constructive feedback, tough skinned when the going gets tough as well as managing mental and physical fatigue through to injury and physical strain on the body.

Either way the goal, passion and drive to have a career as a professional dancer is an ambition for many and ballet does lead to an amazing career. It’s hard but it’s also wonderful – like all things in life it’s worth it if you love it!

These are our top 12 ballet schools revered for elite ballet instruction.

# 12 – Royal Danish School of Ballet (Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen, Demark)

Founded in 1771, the Royal Danish Ballet School is one of the very few institutions in the world where students apply education in both dance and academic tuition. Instruction focuses on classical ballet training and students also attend normal in-house academic classes that align with the Danish public-school system. The ballet school has approximately 120 students ranging from preschoolers to students in upper secondary education. The program is designed to provide a strong platform in dance, creativity and academic achievement.

The ‘Apprentice Program’ is the final stage and last three years of the education program at the Royal Danish Ballet School. Students receive intensive ballet training with the curriculum acute to technique, repertoire, modern dance, pas de deux, physiotherapy, mental coaching, pilates, ballet history, performance skills and nutrition. During this period students are also exposed to several performances, tours and events. Students attend their academic classes in high school in the morning and join the theatre in the afternoon. Training and practice takes place every day from Monday to Saturday.

# 11 – The Sunhwa Arts High School (Seoul, South Korea)

Founded in 1974, The Sunhwa Arts High School has been producing international ballet stars with an impressive standard as student graduates excel in ballet and the success rate of their graduates achieving contracts across leading major ballet companies is outstanding. Based in South Korea, Russian techniques (Vaganova) and extreme athleticism is applied to develop the perfect dancer infused with traditional French from the romantic era and virtuosity of the Italian technique practice.  The school offers a rigorous six-year program that includes fully accredited middle and high school credentials running in parallel with a pre-professional program in ballet. The Sunhwa Arts High School has seen its graduates enter careers as professional ballerinas in Korea, Europe, Australia and the United States of America.

Suyeon An (Age 12) – Sunhwa Arts High School

# 10 – The Juilliard School of Dance (New York, United States of America)

The Juilliard School of Dance opened its doors in 1905 playing host to some of the most talented youth in the world. The school’s reputation is synonymous with artistic excellence in arts education. The mission of the school is to provide the highest calibre of training and education for gifted musicians, dancers and actors from around the world to achieve excellence as artists, leaders and global citizens.

Offering undergraduate and graduate degrees the school is home to approximately 800 artists at any one-time representing enrolments from 44 states in America and 42 countries across the world. Students appear in over 700 performances in the school’s five theatres and venues around New York City. Juilliard defines global education and approach for global performing arts education.

Dance at the institute encourages students to be versatile and nuance performers through the exploration of ballet, modern and contemporary techniques. The school fosters through class and performance structure creative voice and leadership in the art form of dance.

# 9 – National Ballet of Canada’s School (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Established in 1959, National Ballet of Canada develops and educates dancers with an internationally influential training program revered by many with graduates undertaking appointments globally as well as moving into the National Ballet of Canada company. The school attracts candidates across the country and around the world and is the only ballet school in North America to provide elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care all housed on the same campus. Talent is the sole criteria for acceptance in their professional ballet program.

As one of the top institutions in the world the school also incorporates teacher training programs to inspire the next generation of dancers and develop master’s in the craft of dance. The school also explores and opens its door for the ‘inner dancer’ welcoming adult ballet dancers for all skill levels to join a class to develop or reconnect with their technique, artistry and love for movement. The power of dance on this campus has and will continue to transform lives.

# 8 – San Francisco Ballet School (San Francisco, California, United States of America)

The San Francisco Ballet School launched in 1933 and represents one of the oldest training schools in the United States. Since its inception, San Francisco has been considered the ballet hub of the West Coast with the ballet school training some of the world’s elite dancers and with many famous established ballet dancers regularly attending the school’s summer intensive program. With a focus on education for ballet, modern and interpretive dance, the San Francisco Ballet School offers challenging curriculum emphasising strong classical technique, a flow of movement and athleticism that suggests a sense of energy, freedom, and joy which is the preferred style of the San Francisco Ballet Company.

Encouraging the highest levels of excellence the ballet school delivers a distinguished training ground for young dancers around the world with a star line up faculty who have danced with companies such as the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, National Ballet of Cuba, The Joffrey Ballet, English National Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.

# 7 – The Australian Ballet School (Melbourne, Australia)

Founded in 1964, The Australian Ballet School is the first steps for an artist to join The Australian Ballet Company. The mission of the school is to ‘be at the forefront, internationally, as providers of unique, professional dance training’. With a focus to balance rigorous training and creative excellent with health and well-being is the guiding compass of the school – well balanced students and performers where the body, mind and spirit is at the company’s success.

Within six months of graduating from the school 90% of students gain appointments and contracts to continue their careers as elite dancers. For over fifty years the high calibre of dancers that have graduated have taken to the stage with parent company, The Australian Ballet or accepted positions with state companies and leading arts organisations around the world. Extending beyond the stage talent a body of work has been inspired with international acclaim as school graduates have moved into choreographic disciplines achieving distinguished international reputations.

The school offers an eight-level program aiming to produce graduates of the highest calibre to continue their careers in Australia or around the world. Based on the Vaganova method the school’s applicants would demonstrate musicality, artistic potential and suitability as a professional ballet dancer incorporated with talent, technique, athleticism, dramatic ability and expressiveness.

# 6 – La Escuela Nacional de Danza (Havana, Cuba)

The biggest ballet school in the world and the most prestigious one in Cuba, with approximately 3,000 students, the school goes back to 1931 with the creation of the Escuela Nacional de Ballet de la Sociedad de Arte Musical, where Cuba’s most prestigious ballet dancer, Alicia Alonso, trained as a ballerina.

One of the premier ballet institutions, the school traces its roots to a company founded in the 1940’s by internationally acclaimed prima ballerina Alicia Alonso. After the 1959 end of Fidel Castro’s revolution, which emphasised popular access to the arts, government support helped reinvent the school as one of the finest in the world—and the largest, with over 3,000 students and free to all attending pupils. The school’s students go on to be some of the top ballet dancers, valued for their rigorous training and the uniquely Cuban style that combines European and American forms with Afro-Cuban influences. Alicia Alonso has spent a lifetime with the institution giving her final public performance in 1995 at the tender age of 74.

The National Ballet School turns out 40 professional dancers a year. The opportunity to join foreign ballet companies is a big incentive for many graduates from the National Ballet of Cuba. Today several American and British companies have former dancers from the National Ballet Dance School among their principal dancers or an appointed ballet master.

# 5 – The John Cranko School (Stuttgart, Germany)

In 1961 John Cranko settled in Stuttgart with the idea to start a ballet institution. He dreamed of a place where the gifted youth of the world would study with the Ballet Company of the State Theatre Stuttgart. In 1971 the John Cranko school opened up to accept its first pupils. Today the German dance school is considered one of the best places in the world to train in ballet. This is where dancers go to sharpen their skills. Once their training is complete, they move on to the Company of the State Theatre or other prestigious ballet schools and companies.

The State Ballet Academy / Vocational School is a two-year program. Students up to the age of 18 are admitted with conditions for admission into the academy a competitive undertaking with limited places. High standard of technical proficiency in classical dance and a completed academic school education is essential. The tuition is full-time and includes curriculum in subject areas classical technique, variations, repertoire, Pas de deux, character dance / Spanish dance, contemporary dance, improvisation, pointe work, German, English, sociology, dance history, music history and theory, anatomy / dance theory and make-up.

At the end of the first year there is a theoretical examination, at the end of the second year there is a practical final examination. After passing the final examination the students leave the ballet academy as state-certified classical dancers. The education at the academy is free of charge. However, the students need to pay for their board and lodging.

# 4 – The School of American Ballet (New York City, United States of America)

George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein founded this famous ballet school in 1934. Balanchine brought with him the dedication and drive he learned at the Imperial Ballet School where he trained and performed. Balanchine also knew that any successful ballet academy had to be closely associated with a prestigious ballet company. He felt it was time to create a chief ballet troupe in the United States – the New York City Ballet was formed. The initial intention of The School of American Ballet was to train dancers for the ballet company. The School of American Ballet opened at 637 Madison Avenue, New York City, with an enrolment of 32 pupils on January 2, 1934.

Over the past 85 years, the school and NYCB have together transformed ballet in America. Alumni of first the school and then the company have gone on to begin or direct other schools and companies, to choreograph new works and to stage the works of Balanchine, Robbins and other notable choreographers for companies worldwide. As a result, dancers trained at the School of American Ballet today enjoy many choices when embarking on professional careers. Not only do a number of students join New York City Ballet each year, but others join leading dance companies around the country and the world.

Those who have undertaken training at the School of American Ballet continue their careers with appointments at the New York City Ballet and companies worldwide.

# 3 – Royal Ballet School (London, England)

Considered one of the world’s greatest centres for classical ballet training, founded in 1926 by Dame Ninette de Valois, the school has produced remarkable talent, both dancers and choreographers internationally renowned to the likes of Margot Fonteyn, Anya Linden, Kenneth MacMillan, Lynn Seymour, David Wall, Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Marguerite Porter, Stephen Jefferies, Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope.

Admission to the school is based purely on talent and potential, regardless of academic ability or personal circumstances. The school offers an eight-year carefully structured dance course, aligned with an extensive academic program, giving the students the best possible education to equip them for a career in the world of dance. An extensive program is offered through the Royal Ballet School with dancer training and dance teacher training. The system of training is based in English style classical ballet, a traditional style inherited to produce dancers with a strong, clean classical technique with great emphasis on artistry, musicality, purity of line, co-ordination and a quality of movement, free of mannerisms.

Home of the infamous ‘White Lodge’ where young students have trained since 1955 and the ‘Upper School’ based in Covent Garden, the reputation and prestige of this training institution leads classical ballet education attracting the very best ballet students worldwide.

# 2 – The Vaganova School (St. Petersburg, Russia)

Referred to as the ‘Harvard of Ballet’, established in 1738 in St. Petersburg and by Imperial Decree of Empress Anna, the first Russian School of Theatrical Dance was founded. Graduates include an impressive wrap sheet with international acclaim to the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Recent graduates Julia Makhalina, Faruk Ruzimatov, Diana Vishneva, and Ulyana Lopatkina are today’s stars, not only at the Kirov, but with leading ballet companies around the world.

Through the history of the academy, the Vaganova has endeavoured to preserve the very best of traditions in classical heritage and training and many follow the training methods of the Vaganova. Today the Academy has 340 students, and competition for a place at the school is fierce.  Throughout the school year, thousands of children apply for consultations with ballet staff to assess their suitability for acceptance.  Of these, approximately 70 will be accepted.  Even then, the training is extremely difficult,  only 30 or so students will actually complete the eight-year curriculum. Those who persevere will join leading ballet companies in Russia and abroad. Training at The Vaganova School is gruelling consisting of a six-day training schedule and one day off a week.

#1 – The Paris Opera Ballet School (Paris, France)

In 1713 Louis XIV founded the ballet institution. The school located in Nanterre has for over 300 years focused on the artistic education of students transferred between master to pupil.  The school of approximately 150 students focuses on enrolling artists with outstanding physical abilities to develop elite dancers whilst preserving their individuality. This ballet school has been educating the world’s finest ballet dancers for more than three centuries. It supplies dancers to the worlds oldest ballet company, The Paris Opera Ballet. It has remained in the top three slots as best ballet education in the world for decades.

Ballet is taught across six-levels open to both male and female prodigies and provides a multidisciplinary course across dance disciplines as well as lessons in music, mime, theatre, entertainment law, history of dance, anatomy and physical preparation.

The hierarchy of the Paris Opera Ballet is very strict. For a dancer it is virtually compulsory to enter first the Paris Opera Ballet School. You cannot get into the company if you have not undertaken training with the school and the competition for admission to both institutions is extremely fierce as well as the competition for the highest ranks in the ballet company.

More than 90 percent of the candidates don’t pass the ballet school entrance examination, 20% of its pupils have to leave at the end of the year failing in the annual competitive examinations (“les concours annuels”) in May. Only 5% to 20% percent of the ballet school graduates are accepted in the Paris Opera Ballet, initially as dancers on trial (the “stagiaires”).

To become a regular member of the Paris Opera Ballet as “Quadrille” (fifth and lowest rank in the hierarchy) you have to pass the annual competitive examination in November. Promotion to the next rank depends exclusively on success in the following annual competitive examinations (“les concours internes de promotion”) in front of a board of judges. To achieve the highest rank as Danseur Étoile (only by nomination) you must perform in leading roles as “Premier Danseur” for many years before you are nominated with outstanding excellence and merit.

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