Ballet Austin | Contributions of $1.5 Million to Underwrite the Butler Trainee Fellowship Program

Ballet Austin | Contributions of $1.5 Million to Underwrite the Butler Trainee Fellowship Program

Gift to endow annual training program for exceptional aspiring professional dancers

Ballet Austin is proud to announce a gift from Dr. Ernest & Sarah Butler of $1,500,000 to the Ballet Austin Foundation to permanently endow the most advanced level of Ballet Austin’s professional training, bringing their total investment in this program to $1,850,000. The projected annual interest from this endowment will provide ongoing funding that will make it possible to extend up to 15 Butler Trainee Program Fellowships each year to extraordinarily talented aspiring professional dancers recruited through a national audition tour. Ballet Austin’s Butler Trainee Fellows, through the generosity of this endowed gift, will be given the opportunity to focus their time and energies on this critical final stage of professional training, regardless of each artist’s financial capacity.


Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills says, “I am grateful for the extraordinary vision that is implicit in this gift that ensures that young people on the cusp of entering careers as professional dancers are afforded this important opportunity to complete their training. Many are forced to abandon their dreams of attaining a professional career at precisely this point in the process, and the Butler’s gift is intended to remove the financial barrier, providing an important and missing bridge between Academy training and the opportunity to train at a level and duration necessary to be competitive in a professional career in dance. Our dream will be to see 15 Butler Fellows each year attain professional careers in dance.”


The Need:

Dance companies connect with their community by commissioning and presenting work that is relevant, work that reflects the community’s interests, concerns, passions and perspectives. For generations, choreographers have met this challenge by pushing at the boundaries of established dance vocabulary. Today, as the lines between movement styles and forms further blur and dissolve, choreographers seek to work with dancers prepared to collaborate within this process. This “next generation” work requires dancers who are exceptionally mature, both technically and artistically. It requires a heightened level of physicality and conditioning. It requires dancers capable of improvisation and who are effective contributors to the creative process.


There is a growing recognition within the professional dance industry that it is increasingly difficult to find dancers prepared to meet these expectations. Current training models do not sufficiently support the development of artists prepared to meet the complex needs of today’s choreographers and the industry. The Butler’s gift empowers Ballet Austin to contribute to this national dialogue in a substantive and pivotal way, refining and expanding a program that has proven effective, while removing financial barriers of access so that exceptional potential is exceptionally realized.


The Gift:

At the core of Ballet Austin’s mission is a commitment to the development of new art and artists. Identifying and nurturing potential is some of the most important work we do, but it is an intensive process that spans years. For many young artists, the necessary investment of time and dollars is exhaustive and they are simply unable to maintain the required daily training regimen. An investment in the training of an artist is the ultimate gesture of trust, as the “final product” takes years to fully develop. This is truly an investment in possibility.

We are honored by the trust that Dr. Ernest and Sarah Butler express through their endowment of Ballet Austin’s Butler Trainee Fellowship Program. Their vision is unique in that it acknowledges and elevates the importance of the process of training an artist to a level that is as valued as funding the creation of dance works. Their philosophy embodies venture philanthropy in its purest and most powerful form. Together they are changing the landscape of arts training in Austin, across multiple disciplines, and they are doing it in a way that resonates nationally. Through their gifts the Butlers have ensured that individual artists will be provided with the opportunity to thrive and contribute, and that training institutions can fully engage in the development of effective training models.


The Butler Trainee Fellowship Program

The Butler Trainee Fellowship Program represents the most advanced level of Ballet Austin Academy training. This intensive professional-track offers an innovative and personal approach to a traditional process, providing both the highest quality classical ballet training and the opportunity to explore the unique contemporary choreography of Ballet Austin’s repertoire.


Selected through a nationwide audition process, the Butler Trainee Fellows will participate in up to seventeen hours of classes per week. Under the guidance of an experienced faculty, these students receive instruction in ballet technique, variations, partnering, men’s technique, modern, jazz, Pilates, body conditioning and repertoire.


While the majority of training occurs in the studio, there are additional opportunities for professional development offered through educational workshops, lectures, and interaction with guest instructors and other professionals from dance related industries. Additionally, the Butler Fellows will rehearse and perform with Ballet Austin’s Company and Ballet Austin II in selected main stage, touring and educational performances.


Integral to the Butler Trainee Fellowship Program is Ballet Austin’s “Mentoring Initiative” which establishes a foundation of support and resources for transition from student to professional. Mentors facilitate introduction into Ballet Austin’s methods of instruction and training philosophy, and prepare these students to meet industry expectations of technique, artistry and personal conduct necessary for a career in dance. The program also includes individual conferences with directors and instructors.


Second-year Fellows will participate in the Academy’s pedagogy program (teacher training) or in internships with Ballet Austin’s education, marketing, production and administration departments. Many past graduates of Ballet Austin’s Butler Trainee Fellowship Program have been promoted to Ballet Austin II or have accepted contracts with other professional companies. Currently, 30% of Ballet Austin’s main Company roster are graduates of the Butler Trainee Program.


Creating an endowment through the Ballet Austin Foundation to underwrite the expense of this program makes it possible for these aspiring professionals to become part of this important program, regardless of their financial capacity. The estimated cost to instruct each Fellow for one academic year is over $5,000.



About the Ballet Austin Foundation

The Ballet Austin Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) organization established in 1998 existing solely to benefit Ballet Austin. Through compounded growth of assets and dividends, endowed or planned gifts secure the future of our organization.  The account reached $1 million in 2004 and began distributing an annual grant to Ballet Austin as a percentage of the value of the account. These funds help support Ballet Austin’s mission of providing exceptional artistic programming, arts education, scholarships and access for the entire Central Texas community.



About Ballet Austin

As distinctive and dynamic as the city it calls home, Ballet Austin welcomes audiences near and far to participate in its “classically innovative” vision for the democratization of dance. With a rich history spanning five decades, acclaimed productions, a commitment to creating access to programs and one of the nation’s largest classical ballet academies, the organization is poised for an even greater future. From their home at the Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin, Ballet Austin and Artistic Director Stephen Mills actively engage the community, dancers, and audiences alike.

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