Different ballet corps can be found all over the world from the US to Australia and over to the UK. With these variations comes different approaches, different classes, different training and different lifestyles. Ultimately, it can be like starting all over again professionally when you move from one company to another. But, just like in any profession, there are similarities that will be your comfort blanket in what might feel like a brand new start.
Here on the Zarely blog today we wanted to cover the different ballet corps across the UK and the USA and share some of the best ballet companies in the US and share a little insight into the ballet life.
For those that don't know, a ballet de corps is a permanent feature of a dance company. In French, it plainly means "the body of the ballet.", which rather accurately, they are. Although the spotlight pans towards the principal dancer, it is the ballet de corps that keeps the ballet in perfect time, moving in startling unison and being an aesthetic backdrop.
The ballet de corps are much more than a backing singer or a chorus in a play. They are the backbone of the ballet and the group that moves as one. Just one person out of line or moving out of time can ultimately ruin the entire aesthetic. It is an important role to play and the pressure can be intense. It will come as no surprise that members of a ballet company can be expected to work and rehearse for 12 hours each day, and that's not counting performance shows!
Most aspiring dancers dream of being a principal dancer, but just like many before you and many after you, you'll usually have to start as a member of the ballet de corps. It is here you'll make your debut and hope to impress your company to gain recognition, respect and hopefully, in turn, a promotion. Some of you may be interested to find out the difference in salary between a member of the ballet de corps and the principal dancer, so we've done the research for you.
If becoming a professional dancer and being paid to do what you love is your aspiration, then you'll be pleased to hear that it was reported in a 2011 New York Times article that dancers in the ballet de corps are paid an average salary of around $829-$1,204 per week, over 38 weeks. If we're talking about principal dancers, the average principal dancer's salary can be as much as $58,000 per year. Although it is hours and hours of gruelling rehearsals and hard work, many find comfort to know that they are being paid to live out their dreams and that many aspiring dancers would love to be in their position.
The life of a ballet corps can be one that is a strange, illogical feeling of isolation and loneliness, especially when you're just starting out. Unlike the principal dancers who are able to build and develop relationships with coaches, directors and even the audience, the corps dancers are left to take the challenges of professional development alone, with minimal support and coaching from management. For example, after a show, the principal dancer will be praised individually and offered support or guidance to improve, whereas the corps are given group feedback. Feedback is given to the group and it can be a little daunting to be not provided with personal corrections and suggestions to improve. Not to mention a "nice work corps" usually suffices as your praise after the big night.
Then there is the looming feeling of tension. Just like in any workplace, there is competition. Albeit, usually it is healthy competition and your other members are the ones who are there to pick you up when you're down, but it's still there. You're aware that most other members also dream of passing through the corps, not remaining in it. It's important to remember that, at this moment, you are part of a group, you're not there to outshine the person next to you. You're there to work cohesively and work in perfect unison. That is the key to progression.
Don't let that dishearten you though, many dancers will tell you that being part of a corps is still living out the dream. A dream to dance professionally. Many professional dancers will tell you that dancing in the corps is massively fulfilling, albeit less so than soloist and principal work, but the work satisfaction is still there.
Naturally as dancers we crave the spotlight and envision ourselves at the front of the stage doing a killer solo but being a part of a group and nailing that perfect unison is just as satisfactory and important to the ballet works. The ballet de corps are the body.
Moving forward, you might be interested to know which the best corps in the US are. To use the term best ballet corps is quite subjective. To refer to the best corps can have star features for many different reasons, and there's not to say that some of the corps just don't have the resources that others do, it's all about finding the right fit for you. If nothing else, your local ballet company could be the perfect stepping stone to get you on the professional dancer ladder.
It will come as no surprise that the best US ballet companies are the largest, names such as ABT in New York, NY City Ballet, San Francisco, Miami City, Joffrey and Pacific North West come to mind. These companies have all been established for a long time and have an excellent reputation. Cities and states with similar wealth and size just haven't been able to attain this level of worldwide reputation like the ones aforementioned. These prestigious companies all have an amazing repertoire with outstanding dancers who dance the choreography beautifully, but add their heart, soul and true emotion.
Professional dancers are aware of how short their professional career can be. With looming economic pressures, chance of injury and change of heart can all contribute to limit professional lives. Without the multi-million-dollar salary like some other athletes, it's the passion for dance that keeps dancers wanting to stay in a company and be a professional dancer. Since the career of a professional dancer can be relatively short in comparison to other professions, it's key to choose a company that you connect with. It's important to keep in mind that you aspire to work with companies who have a strong reputation, have a good relationship with the local community and is filled with artistic directors whom have a strong artistic vision that can bring their work to life and showcase you in the best possible way.
Remember, the dancers are what adds emotion and the true heart to a company. It is you who contribute to make the company prestigious. Choose a company you connect with and every day at work will be a dream come true.
You may find comfort or discomfort in learning that ballet is not a universal language. Many dancers who have travelled across lands will report back and tell you it takes some getting used to in order to adapt to the new balletic style.
After becoming accustomed to the impeccable lines of a Paris Opera Ballet or the disciplined elegance at the Moscow State, some reported that they initially found the American style wild and disorderly, throwing themselves full throttle with little regard for symmetry or grace. It was only until they took a step back to observe closer that they could appreciate this new level of energy that they had never seen over in Europe, especially not in the UK.
Those who attend dance will tell you that there's something exciting about watching a dance performed in a different country. The core cultural and stylistic forms are evident and what makes each corp so unique in their own way. Even audiences who are unaware of the technical differences in ballet can appreciate the characteristic differences. It's often shared that English ballet style is described as restrained and classical, the Danish style as gentle; French as elegant; Russian as soulful whilst the American style is regarded as upfront and energetic.
The prevalent differentiation between the U.S and the UK is in the petit allegro. You'll find that in the UK the ballerinas do this much faster than expected in the US. Another distinctive element is the emphasis on the arms. Over in the Royal Ballet, there is a much bigger emphasis on the arm placement than the corps in the US.
A dancers' formative culture exerts a massive influence of the way they look as they dance. Even if they are performing the same core movements. Countries still produce dancers with very different traits and strengths, partly due to training methods and partly through cultural upbringing. Dancers are the result of their environment. What works for one culture won't necessarily work for another, which is a very positive thing. But, also as a dancer it's important to keep that in mind. Cultural variations do exist. If you want to be part of a corps elsewhere, your body will need to adapt, but it's possible.
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