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Job Description for a Prima Ballerina

by Ellie Williams

The term "prima ballerina" refers to a ballet company’s principal female dancer. She reaches this status only after years of training, usually beginning in early childhood. She continues to train throughout her career, rehearsing during the day and performing at night. Working as a prima ballerina with a professional dance company requires focus, dedication and the ability to work as part of a team.

Intensive Training

Preparing for a career as a prima ballerina is a lengthy undertaking that begins in childhood, often with a training regimen that rivals the ones followed by professional ballerinas. Prima ballerina Kirsten Bloom, for example, began ballet lessons at age 5 and by age 12 was practicing five days a week. In an interview with CNN, Svetlana Zakharova, principal dancer for the Bolshoi theater company in Russia, said that by her early teens she often practiced up to eight hours a day. At the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, which accepts aspiring ballerinas age 17 and older, students might spend up to 36 hours per week in classes.

Working With a Company

Ballet companies sometimes hold open auditions, but most conduct them by invitation only. To get a meeting with the company’s director, a ballerina must usually submit a video and other materials first. The San Francisco Ballet, for example, requires candidates to send a resume or CV, two or three dance photos that show the entire body, and video of performance footage consisting of two classical performances and one contemporary. As with any team effort, being part of a ballet company requires putting the group first. Ballet teacher Melanie Doskocil notes the importance of showing up early, working hard and only offering your opinions if asked.

Rehearsal and Performance Schedule

A prima ballerina spends as much time rehearsing as she does performing -- and often more. Kirsten Bloom, a longtime ballerina with the Sacramento Ballet, said in an interview with “California Conversations Magazine" that she rehearses six hours a day for six hours a week. During a performance week, she must rehearse Sundays as well. The Atlanta Ballet notes that a dancer’s typical workday begins with an hour and a half of instruction and warm-up, followed by four to six hours of rehearsals.

Salary and Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t maintain salary information specifically for prima ballerinas, but reports that professional dancers working with dance companies earned a median hourly wage of $20.48 as of May 2012. Businessweek magazine noted in a 2006 article that Julie Kent, a prima ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, earned $171,000 per year. The bureau expects dance jobs to grow by 11 percent between 2010 to 2020, about the average rate for all occupations. However, the bureau also points out that public interest in traditional dance is waning, potentially leading to fewer positions at dance companies and more intense competition. The Atlanta Ballet notes that a ballerina’s career typically lasts until her late 30s.

Photo Credits

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