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The School of American Ballet
Posted: June 27th, 2011
  • comments (10)

When George Balanchine said, “I don’t want people who want to dance; I want people who have to dance” he was speaking about members of the New York City Ballet. To join their ranks takes unbelievable amounts of commitment, perseverance, and training. And, for most of these dancers, the training begins at the School of American Ballet.

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  • P. Tessier

    This is such a beautiful story. I saw it on Sunday and had to watch it again on-line. Seeing the passion and determination that these young dancers have is inspiring. Your crew captured it perfectly. Thank you for this story.

  • Viktoria Silvester

    It is so nice to watch other talented students from America, as I am a dancer myself and go to a full time ballet school in England. It inspires me so much to watch their hard work, determination and love for dance which I can relate to!

  • Mikal

    It is sad that so few of these wonderful dancers will ever get the chance to actually dance in NYCB, or another company that might be able to use this distinct training. The concept that is shown in such a positive light has a very dark place is not mentioned. Those of the dancers who never get a job with a ballet company, or get turned down due to the Balanchine affectations that are drilled into them. If the dancer can change this, and move in other ways too, they might be able to dance in companies which perform more classical ballets. Yet, after so much training and dedication, many, if not most do not get to the dream which was begun at 8 yrs old. In the USA, we do not train dancers and then automatically accept them into the school’s company. No ballet school does that here. In Europe it is different. So, dance away, and dance with your hearts, but remember that you may never be on the stage. Sad but a factual statement.

  • Susan Freedman Londoner

    This was an amazing walk down memory lane for me. I started at The School Of American Ballet when I was seven years old, studied at SAB until I was 17, went on to dance in Switzerland at 17, then returned to the US to fulfill my dream by being accepted into New York City Ballet at age 18 by George Balanchine.
    I can understand and appreciate Mikal’s statement, that not all is golden at SAB, and that their are disappointments, as there are at any Arts or Educational facility. It’s true that not all student dancers who go through the school are guaranteed a spot in New York City Ballet, nor any other company for that matter (and these students and their parents know that!), but what Mikal left out is what the interviewed dancers in this lovely documentary so intelligently and genuinely stated: That is that SAB is a place for learning. Learning from dancers who are the cream of the Balanchine crop. Learning to be a well trained dancer, learning to have a strong technique, to be on time, be disciplined, , to honor your craft, to honor yourself, your classmates, your teachers, your body, your limitations and most of all, to learn to be committed to your art. These invaluable lessons, taught by teachers who not only have had success in their own lives as dancers, but who LOVE dancing so much that they have committed their second lives to sharing their knowledge, joy, and love for their art with their students. As dance educators they will, and do embed in their students the concept of dedication to their craft. These lessons, even more then the dance itself will develop in these wonderfully focused children and young adults with the knowledge that hard work always pays off, in one way or another. This ethic will stay with them no matter where their lives lead them, whether it be dancing with a company, or as a doctor, a parent, lawyer or steel worker, etc. They will always take with them the incredible education that this world class school provides them with. I am not saying that I wouldn’t have been totally bummed had I not gotten into the company after 10 years of studying, busting my chops, a year of dancing abroad with one goal in mind, to get back to the states and get into into City Ballet! I fully understand that anyone that has a similar goal that doesn’t have their dream fulfilled can be left with disappointment and distress. But this is the life of an artist. There are no guarantees in life. But as SAB you are taught to get up again, no matter how many times you fall! Nothing about being an artist or ballet dancer is easy. It is a hard life full of set backs and competition. Their is always someone better then you. Every dancer knows in the back of their mind that the percentage of dancers that make it into companies is miniscule. The truth is that if you love this artform, and if you “Have” to do it, as Mr. Balanchine said, then their is no choice but to carry on carrying on. SAB is an incredible institution for learning to become a ballet dancer, and for those willing to make all the sacrifices necessary to attain this goal, this is, at least in my experience, one of the finest schools to work to attain these goals! Every teacher at this school knows what the odds are, and yet they impart their love, knowledge and wisdom of this difficult yet incredible life with every student, every day.
    What I learned as a young child and young woman at the School Of American Ballet has stayed with me, has become a part of me, and the lessons and work ethic that I learned at SAB has extended into my life as a parent, as a photographer, and in every other avenue that my life has taken. I have tried my utmost to impart these important life lessons and values that were taught to me at the school in my own children.
    PS. I’m sick of people saying that Balancine dancers have affectations, and that this reasoning may be the culprit for dancers not be accepted into other companies. Give me a break! They are gorgeous, unbelievably trained, always have been, and always will be. Hundreds of dancers that have not gotten into New York City Ballet have gone on to dance successfully in companies and other dance venues worldwide! Not everyone was born to be a Balancine dancer, but I can bet there are very few dancers out there that wouldn’t be thrilled to spend a good portion of their time as a ballet student at The School Of American Ballet.
    Peter, Suki, Jock, Sean, Susie, Garielle, Darci, Kay and all of the other amazing teachers at SAB, I honor you. How lucky these children are to have you as their teachers and mentors!

  • masad qawishabazz

    this story was and still is my story. in 1996 when i wanted to go from African dance to ballet my mother was against it. until i showed her Balanchine’s nutcracker on wttw and she saw how fascinated i was by how much Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols, Damian Wotzel, and so many others moved that she found out about the boys program and i got into the school and all i wanted to do was be in the New York City Ballet i still do to this day. when we moved from New York and she didnt want me to stay in the dorms my heart was crushed. now because of the quality i got from sab and ballet Chicago all i do is contemporary works because thats what im casted in. it makes me sad because i was on that same track as the teens and now i may never get to New York City Ballet. but i wont stop working on everything that Peter Martins and Jock Soto and sometimes Merrill Ashley demanded that i do and i will continue to fight for my dream. thanks for the video

  • Bob Morris

    As the producer of this story, I would like to comment on Mikal’s post. I thought long and hard about whether to include a section about SAB students who “go to college”; those who are told that their chances of becoming a dancer with the NYCB were slim. However, the harsh realities of the dance world are evident even to the twelve year olds at the school; they all know that the NYCB only has five apprentice spots in the company and their are a couple of dozen advanced students. They all are competitive, just like in every other school. In the end, I decided to focus on the positive aspects in the lives of these young dancers. Also, as the father of two teenagers myself it was inspiring to see the focus, dedication, and passion that these kids exhibit; certainly not the teenage norm. But, Mikal why be so negative? The dreams that children dream are their own and not for me (or you) to dismiss. Susan’s post was quite eloquent on this point.

    In his first bite, Peter says that they train for other companies as well. In my last, narration I say, perhaps there is “one student” who will become a principal dancer with the NYCB.  For those who never become dancers; they gave it their best shot and move on, hopefully, with the same dedication and passion they put into their art. 

    On the Balanchine aesthetic, I am not a qualified to really defend or denounce it. However, Suki Schorer said, “it’s not the only way to dance and if you didn’t like it, you moved on…” 

    On a personal note, I loved working on this story. I found SAB to be an inspiring place. The school shares space with Juilliard, so as soon as you enter the building you feel the excitement for music and dance that permeates from the two institutions. The passionate atmosphere is infectious. These kids are on the Lincoln Center campus where the world’s best perform; a very exciting environment in which to be working.  

  • SABdancer

    actually like susan said most of the dancers from sab get into the top companies of the US! and it is quite easy to move from balenchine to classical or others styles, not other styles to balenchine. even the young students work just as hard as the older ones. you also get to preform workshop which is an opportunity on stage…

  • Terry Graves

    Having taught academics to Harrison Ball when he was a 7th grader at Charleston School of the Arts, it was wonderful to see how he has matured and developed into the gifted dancer I knew he could be. I will always be glad that he made the choice to go to SAB to perfect his craft and pursue his dreams. I will continue to follow his dancing career as I continue to teach the upcoming dancers who come through our school. Way to go Harrison!!!

  • ashley

    This video is is pretty I wish that I did not stoped dacneing but I miss it too!

  • Anonymous

    When I was 12 years old at SAB, I really wasn’t aware of the slim chances of getting into the company….

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