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Working-Class Ballet


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Ardys Roman



Ballet, with its graceful movements and elegant performances, has long been associated with the elite and upper classes. However, behind the scenes, there is a hidden world of working-class ballet dancers who defy stereotypes and break barriers to pursue their passion for this art form. These individuals come from diverse backgrounds and face unique challenges as they strive to make their mark in the world of ballet.


Throughout history, ballet has been closely intertwined with aristocracy and nobility. Originating in the courts of Renaissance Italy and later flourishing in the French royal courts, ballet was initially reserved for the privileged few. The expensive training, exclusive academies, and demanding lifestyle associated with ballet made it inaccessible to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.


The evolution of working-class ballet has brought about a shift in this elitist narrative. With the rise of modern and contemporary ballet, along with a growing emphasis on inclusivity and diversity in the arts, more opportunities have opened up for talented individuals from all walks of life. This has led to a greater representation of working-class dancers on professional stages and a breaking down of long-standing barriers.


Working-class ballet dancers face numerous challenges on their journey to success. Financial constraints, limited access to quality training, and societal biases are just a few of the hurdles they must overcome. Despite these obstacles, their immense talent, passion, and determination propel them forward.


This article delves into the world of working-class ballet, exploring the history, evolution, and challenges faced by aspiring dancers. It also highlights success stories of those who have defied the odds, as well as the importance of diversity and accessibility in the ballet community.


History of Ballet

Ballet traces its roots back to the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries, where it was primarily performed as a form of entertainment for royalty and nobility. It was during this time that ballet emerged as a distinct art form, combining music, dance, and storytelling. At first, ballet was more of a social dance than a performance art, with courtiers showcasing their skills and elegance.


However, it was in the 17th century, particularly in the French royal courts, that ballet matured and gained recognition as a theatrical spectacle. King Louis XIV of France, known as the Sun King, was an ardent patron of the arts and played a pivotal role in shaping the future of ballet. He established the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661, which laid the foundation for ballet as a formal discipline.


Under Louis XIV’s reign, ballet became a highly structured art form, incorporating precise footwork, decorative patterns, and elaborate costumes. Professional ballet schools were established to train dancers, and ballet masters developed a notation system to record and preserve choreography. Pierre Beauchamp, the most prominent dance master of the time, codified the five positions of ballet and revolutionized the technique.


In the 18th century, ballet began to flourish outside of the courts and began to be performed in public theaters. With the rise of romanticism in the early 19th century, ballet underwent a transformation. The emphasis shifted from formalism and technique to storytelling and emotional expression. Ballets such as “Giselle” and “Swan Lake” became iconic works that showcased the emotional range and technical prowess of dancers.


Throughout the 20th century, ballet continued to evolve, with the emergence of different styles and movements. Ballet Russes, founded by Serge Diaghilev in 1909, brought Russian ballet to the forefront of the international stage and showcased groundbreaking collaborations with artists like Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky. The development of neoclassical ballet by choreographers like George Balanchine emphasized speed, athleticism, and musicality.


Today, ballet encompasses a wide range of styles, from classical to contemporary. It has become a global art form, with ballet companies and schools found in every corner of the world. While its historical roots may be linked to the elite and upper classes, the evolution of ballet has brought about a more inclusive and diverse community, embracing dancers from all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.


The Evolution of Working-Class Ballet

Traditionally, ballet was dominated by the aristocracy and upper classes, with only a select few having access to the prestigious training and opportunities offered by elite ballet schools. However, in recent years, there has been a remarkable shift in the ballet world, with a growing recognition and appreciation for working-class ballet dancers.


One of the key factors driving the evolution of working-class ballet is the increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in the arts. Ballet companies and institutions are recognizing the importance of representation and are actively seeking out talent from diverse backgrounds. This has opened doors for aspiring dancers who may not have had the financial means or social connections to pursue ballet in the past.


Contemporary ballet, in particular, has played a significant role in embracing working-class dancers. Unlike classical ballet, which often adheres to strict traditions and hierarchies, contemporary ballet allows for greater individual expression and experimentation. This shift has created opportunities for dancers to showcase their unique talents and challenge societal norms.


The rise of social media has also had a profound impact on the evolution of working-class ballet. Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have provided a space for dancers to showcase their skills, share their stories, and connect with audiences around the world. This has helped talented dancers from working-class backgrounds gain recognition and even secure professional opportunities they may not have otherwise had access to.


Furthermore, contemporary choreographers have begun to address social and economic issues in their works, giving voice to the experiences of working-class individuals. These ballets explore themes of class struggle, inequality, and the pursuit of dreams against all odds. By portraying the stories and struggles of working-class characters, ballet is becoming more relatable and accessible to a wider audience.


The evolution of working-class ballet also extends beyond the stage. Ballet schools and training programs are increasingly offering scholarships and financial aid to talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Initiatives such as community outreach programs and partnerships with schools in low-income neighborhoods are providing opportunities for children who may not have previously been exposed to ballet.


Overall, the evolution of working-class ballet is a testament to the power of passion, talent, and determination. It demonstrates that ballet is not exclusive to a select few, but is a truly universal art form that can be enjoyed and practiced by individuals from all walks of life.


Challenges Faced by Working-Class Ballet Dancers

Becoming a ballet dancer is a dream pursued by many, but for working-class individuals, there are unique challenges that can make the journey even more daunting. From financial constraints to societal biases, working-class ballet dancers face numerous obstacles on their path to success.


One of the major challenges faced by working-class ballet dancers is the high cost of training and education. Ballet classes, private coaching, and dancewear can be prohibitively expensive, making it difficult for those from lower-income backgrounds to access quality training. Additionally, the cost of attending prestigious ballet schools and participating in competitions can be out of reach for many aspiring dancers. This financial barrier often results in talented individuals being unable to pursue their passion or having to settle for subpar training.


Social and cultural biases can also pose significant challenges for working-class ballet dancers. Ballet has historically been associated with the elite and upper classes, leading to the perception that it is a pursuit reserved only for those with privilege. This can create a sense of imposter syndrome and make it harder for working-class dancers to be taken seriously or given equal opportunities. Overcoming societal biases and breaking through stereotypes can require not only exceptional talent but also resilience and a strong support network.


Another challenge is the lack of representation and role models for working-class ballet dancers. The majority of renowned ballet professionals come from affluent backgrounds, and their stories often do not reflect the experiences of those from working-class backgrounds. This can create a sense of isolation and make it harder for working-class dancers to envision themselves succeeding in the ballet world. Lack of representation can also contribute to limited access to mentorship and guidance, making it harder for working-class dancers to navigate the complexities of the ballet industry.


It is worth noting that working-class ballet dancers may also face physical and mental challenges. Long hours of rigorous training can take a toll on the body, and the pressure to maintain a certain body image can lead to body image issues and psychological stress. Moreover, the transient nature of career opportunities in ballet can add financial insecurity and instability to the already challenging journey of a working-class dancer.


Despite these challenges, working-class ballet dancers continue to pursue their passion and strive for excellence. Their determination, resilience, and immense talent enable them to overcome barriers and prove that ballet is not limited to the privileged few. The ballet community and society at large must work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment, where all aspiring dancers, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have an equal opportunity to shine.


Breaking Stereotypes: Success Stories in Working-Class Ballet

Working-class ballet dancers are defying stereotypes and proving that talent and determination can triumph over socioeconomic barriers. Their success stories inspire and pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse ballet community.


One such success story is Misty Copeland, who rose to prominence as the first African-American prima ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. Copeland grew up in a low-income family and faced numerous obstacles throughout her journey. Despite starting ballet at a relatively late age, her undeniable talent and relentless dedication propelled her to become one of the most recognized and celebrated figures in the ballet world.


Similarly, Carlos Acosta, a renowned Cuban ballet dancer, overcame poverty and adversity to become one of the greatest male dancers of his generation. Growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Havana, Acosta’s natural talent caught the attention of dance teachers, who then supported his training. His meteoric rise to international stardom includes performances with leading ballet companies and his artistic directorship at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.


Another notable success story is Michaela DePrince, a Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer who was orphaned during the civil war in Sierra Leone and adopted by an American family. DePrince faced racism and prejudice growing up, but her passion for ballet never wavered. She defied the odds and became a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet, using her platform to advocate for diversity and representation in the ballet industry.


These success stories, along with countless others, shatter the misconception that ballet is an exclusive art form reserved for the privileged. They demonstrate that talent, dedication, and opportunity can transcend socioeconomic barriers and open doors to success in the ballet world.


Furthermore, these success stories serve as powerful examples and sources of inspiration for aspiring ballet dancers from working-class backgrounds. They provide hope and reassurance that dreams can indeed be realized, regardless of one’s social and economic circumstances.


These success stories also highlight the importance of providing equal opportunities to all aspiring ballet dancers. Scholarships, community outreach programs, and mentorship initiatives play a crucial role in supporting and nurturing talent from underprivileged backgrounds. By actively promoting inclusivity and diversity within the ballet community, we can break down barriers and ensure that talented individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to pursue and excel in ballet.


The success stories of working-class ballet dancers are a testament to the power of passion, hard work, and resilience. They remind us that despite the challenges and stereotypes, talent knows no boundaries. By celebrating and amplifying these success stories, we can continue to inspire the next generation of working-class ballet dancers and foster a more inclusive and representative ballet community.


The Importance of Diversity in Ballet

Diversity in ballet goes beyond mere representation; it is a profound necessity for the sustainability and growth of the art form. Embracing diversity in ballet not only creates a more inclusive and equal environment, but it also enriches the artistry by bringing forth unique perspectives, stories, and talents.


One of the fundamental reasons for the importance of diversity in ballet is the artistic and creative benefits it brings. Ballet is an art form that tells stories and evokes emotions through movement. Different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences bring a rich tapestry of narratives and artistic expressions to the stage. By incorporating diverse voices and perspectives, ballet becomes a more nuanced and vibrant art form, captivating audiences with its multiplicity of stories and interpretations.


Diversity in ballet also helps break down stereotypes and challenges ingrained notions about what a ballet dancer should look like or where they should come from. By showcasing dancers of different ethnicities, body types, and backgrounds, ballet becomes more relatable and accessible to a broader audience. When young people from diverse backgrounds see someone who looks like them on stage, they are more likely to feel empowered to pursue ballet and see it as a viable career path.


Furthermore, diversity in ballet fosters a more inclusive and supportive community. It creates a space where dancers can be recognized and valued for their talents rather than being limited by societal biases or preconceived notions. It encourages collaboration, learning, and mutual understanding among dancers from various backgrounds, fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie within the ballet community.


From an audience perspective, diversity in ballet ensures that the art form remains relevant and resonates with a modern and diverse society. The world is composed of a vast array of cultures, traditions, and perspectives, and ballet should reflect this diversity. By diversifying repertoire, choreographic styles, and casting choices, ballet companies can attract a wider audience base and cultivate a more engaged and inclusive ballet community.


It is important to acknowledge that promoting diversity in ballet requires systemic changes that go beyond tokenistic gestures. Ballet institutions and companies must actively work towards creating inclusive environments by implementing anti-discrimination policies, diversifying leadership positions, and providing equal opportunities for dancers from all backgrounds. Additionally, reaching out to underrepresented communities, offering scholarships and mentorship programs, and partnering with schools and organizations in diverse communities are essential steps towards achieving a truly inclusive and diverse ballet world.


By embracing diversity in ballet, we not only celebrate the uniqueness and talents of individuals but also ensure the continued relevance and evolution of the art form. Ballet has the power to transcend boundaries, inspire, and connect with people from all walks of life. It is through a commitment to diversity that ballet can truly thrive and captivate the hearts of audiences worldwide.


Promoting Accessibility: Making Ballet More Inclusive for the Working Class

Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity in ballet is crucial to breaking down socioeconomic barriers and providing opportunities for talented individuals from the working class. By implementing strategies to make ballet more accessible, we can open doors, broaden participation, and create a more equitable ballet community.


One of the key aspects of promoting accessibility in ballet is addressing the financial barriers that can hinder working-class individuals from pursuing their passion. Ballet schools, companies, and organizations should establish scholarship programs and financial aid initiatives to support talented dancers who may not have the financial means to afford training and education. By providing these opportunities, we can level the playing field and give working-class dancers the chance to receive quality instruction and nurture their talent.


Additionally, ballet institutions can establish partnerships with community organizations, schools, and social programs in underprivileged areas. By bringing ballet directly into these communities, we can introduce young people to the art form, provide them with access to resources, and identify and nurture talent early on. Outreach programs can consist of free or reduced-cost ballet classes, workshops, and performances, ensuring that economic circumstances do not limit participation.


Another aspect of promoting accessibility is addressing the lack of diversity within ballet through representation. Ballet companies should actively work towards diversifying their repertoire and casting choices, ensuring that dancers from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to shine. By showcasing a variety of ballet styles and featuring diverse dancers on stage, audiences from all backgrounds can see themselves reflected on stage and feel a sense of belonging and inclusivity.


Additionally, mentorship programs play a vital role in promoting accessibility and inclusivity in ballet. Working-class dancers often lack the guidance and support network that their more privileged peers may have. Mentorship programs can pair aspiring ballet dancers with professionals from similar backgrounds who can offer advice, guidance, and opportunities. These mentorship relationships can provide valuable insight, connections, and support throughout the dancer’s journey.


Lastly, it is crucial for ballet institutions and companies to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all dancers, regardless of their socioeconomic status. This includes fostering a culture of respect, diversity, and equal opportunities. By implementing anti-discrimination policies, providing fair wages and benefits, and promoting a supportive and inclusive atmosphere, ballet organizations can ensure that all dancers feel valued and have an opportunity to thrive.


Promoting accessibility and inclusivity in ballet requires a collective effort from ballet institutions, organizations, educators, and the broader community. By investing in outreach, scholarships, diversifying casting choices, and creating supportive environments, we can make ballet accessible to talented individuals from all walks of life, breaking down barriers and fostering a more diverse and inclusive ballet community.



The evolution of working-class ballet has brought about a transformative shift in the ballet world. With a growing emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility, talented individuals from all backgrounds are breaking down barriers and pursuing their passion for ballet.


We have explored the history of ballet, from its origins as a courtly art form to its evolution into a more inclusive and diverse discipline. The rise of working-class ballet highlights the resilience, talent, and determination of dancers who defy societal stereotypes and overcome unique challenges.


Working-class ballet dancers face various obstacles on their journey, including financial constraints, societal biases, and limited access to resources. However, their success stories exemplify the power of passion and determination to overcome adversity.


It is crucial to recognize the importance of diversity in ballet. Embracing diversity not only enriches the artistry and storytelling but also breaks down stereotypes and fosters a more inclusive and equal ballet community. Accessible ballet programs, scholarships, mentorship opportunities, and partnerships with underprivileged communities are crucial in ensuring that talented individuals from the working class have opportunities to pursue ballet.


Promoting accessibility in ballet is a collective effort that involves ballet institutions, companies, educators, and the wider community. By providing financial support, increasing representation, offering mentorship, and creating inclusive environments, we can create a more diverse and inclusive ballet community.


In conclusion, the world of working-class ballet challenges traditional notions of privilege and elitism. It proves that talent, passion, and determination know no socioeconomic boundaries. By celebrating the success stories of working-class ballet dancers, promoting accessibility, and embracing diversity, we can ensure that ballet remains an inclusive and evolving art form that inspires and captivates audiences around the world.