The arrival of George Balanchine to America in 1934 brought forth the study and performance of ballet as we know it today. Balanchine's creation of the School of American Ballet helped to set the guidelines of dance that are in use today at ballet schools across the country. A prospective ballerina or male dancer progresses through the study of ballet by completing a series of levels. Each level strives to enhance the dancers' capabilities until they reach the goal of professional dancer or, in some cases, principal dancer.
To achieve success in the world of ballet, dancers must start at an early age. Some dance schools chose to differentiate the levels by leotard color. The first -- usually pre-primary school -- is the pink stage. Children in this level are between 2 and 7 years old. The next stage is blue, for 7- and 8-year-olds. Next is the lavender stage, for 8- to 10-year-olds. The red stage is for 11- to 13-year-olds. Those students remaining advance to the navy stage, which is the highest level for pre-professional dance students. The next step for ballet students at this level is application to a professional dance school to continue their education.
Acceptance into a professional dance school means another course of levels for a dancer. The levels are slightly different because acceptance into the school assumes that the student has past dance experience. The world-renowned Joffrey Ballet School in New York City offers three levels of training. Each brings the dancer closer to achieving professional status. The dancer receives evaluation at each level to determine her progress and advancement to the next level. The levels are divided into A, B and C trainee levels.
Training at Each Level
Training at the pre-professional levels concentrates on proper form and body control. Preschool children learn to follow the teacher's simple commands and become acquainted with musical rhythms. By the time they reach the lavender level, students begin practicing extended exercises at the barre. At the navy level, dancers develop knowledge of ballet terminology. More advanced students may proceed to pointe work. To advance to this level, dancers attend classes three to five times per week. At the advanced levels, students use class time to audition for roles and hone their skills. A mid-level trainee will begin to focus on a specific area of dance to pursue professionally.
Life Cycle of a Dancer
The life cycle of a dancer is relatively short in comparison with other careers. This is in part because of the demands on a dancer's body. Dancers must maintain a thin physique while exercising many hours a day and performing at night. Many dancers retire before they are 30 years old. Those who are lucky enough to become principal dancers or solo performers might continue after the age of 30, but there are few ballet dancers in their 40s. There is also the matter of pay. According to a 2011 article in the Chicago Tribune, a company dancer can earn up to $70,000 annually, while a principle dancer earns an estimated $180,000. After retirement, many dancers remain in the profession as teachers, physical therapists and choreographers.
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