Do you think that ballet is elitist ?

Do you think that ballet is elitist ?

Ballet News World Exclusive illustration by Noemi Manalang

Ballet News World Exclusive illustration by Noemi Manalang

A couple of days ago on the Ballet News facebook page I posed the question :

“Do you think that ballet is elitist ?”

I wanted to keep the question simple and clear, and I think it’s helpful to start with a definition of elitist :


1. (of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society.
2. catering to or associated with an elitist class, its ideologies, or its institutions.


3. a person having, thought to have, or professing superior intellect or talent, power, wealth, or membership in the upper echelons of society.
4. a person who believes in the superiority of an elitist class.

(courtesy of


The debate polarised opinion : for some the question triggered a straightfoward yes or no answer. Others included personal stories outlining either success or failure with regard to vocational ballet training (either for them or their children) and bemoaning the expense of the training and lack of support from government grants, etc.

The expense of both training (as a hobby or vocationally : pointe shoes are expensive no matter what level of training is undertaken and other costs included travel, competition fees and costumes) was often highlighted as contributing towards an air of elitism surrounding ballet.

For those who watch ballet rather than participate, the cost of performances seems to have encouraged a feel of elitism. The fact is that good quality ballet is expensive to produce and a part of the ticket price you pay covers the amount of reherasal time that the dancers have undertaken. I have come across people who think that the dancers turn up for a show shortly before it starts and just go on; the reality is that many hours of rehearsal, every day, six days a week, go into a performance, and that’s partly what you are paying for.

At the time of writing this, the balance of opinion was evenly matched, with 35 people saying yes, ballet is elitist, and 34 saying no it isn’t.

These are the comments from the Ballet News facebook page – please feel free to join the debate and leave your own in the comment section below. Spelling errors/typos belong to the commenter.


Scott Hood Goodness no. But I do think you’d be hard pressed to be any kind of professional dancer without some ballet.

Sara Johnston yes i do and it gets me down

Marieka Brocklebank No definitely not!!! Art is for everybody, but few appreciate the beauty of ballet

Danielle Schemiko Pereira yes

Andrea Alvarez Yes

Joanne Inglis I think it would be very hard to get far in ballet without a considerable amount of money. So yes

Yvonne Krahmer-Pandolfi Absolutely

Lynn Laughlin Not really. Nureyev did a lot early on in his defection to bring ballet to the masses! Was on Ed Sullivan, about 100 years ago when I was a child.

Chris Grahn-Howard It is perceived as such, it is not. However, a growing number of people lacking in good education will never be exposed to the music or the art. Sad. Ballet has something for everyone

Linda Boyce-Reid If by elitist you mean for people with money… Absolutely yes stating with point shoes that break every 2weeks depending on hours of rehearsal that cost $100 per pair

ZsKati Kocsári YES

Annabel Cowdrey Trying to get into ballet as a career still seems to be mostly for the wealthy, when you add up private lessons, exam fees, summer schools, performance experiences like EYB etc, then audition fees for schools, accommodation fees at Upper School, and THEN if you get that far, travel to auditions etc!

Janenne Cosier No. It is not hard when talent is shown and arts schools will always provide a scholarship when clear talent is shown. Otherwise you’re done a favour from wasting your effort.

Dee Dee Harris Parkhurst I think any form of dance can be expensive.  But playing sports is also.  So for me, ballet is not elitist!

Marieka Brocklebank @chris for sure friend. We as lovers of ballet enjoy the art

Arianna Wills Naaaaah

Dancers are the athletes of God. No!

Jennifer Frustace Yes

AnDy Aquino Perez yes

Deborah Kinney-Soltis No. I was raised in the American middle class of the 50’s and 60’s. I always wanted to be a dancer. We were exposed to the ballet to the arts on TV and in school. They’ve taken the arts out of so many of our schools that it may become an elitist activity, unless the arts come to the children and their parents.

Sofija Stefanovic I suppose in some way it must be, regarding the aesthetic appearance the dancers must have and the discipline and determination not everyone can show, but on the other hand, art is for everyone and talent is always noticed…

Rose-ann Kruger No, I did ballet all through my childhood and beyond and my family were below the poverty line. And tickets for the ballet are much cheaper than tickets for the Opera.

Trudi Thomas Due to the new DADA system recently implemented a month ago, I would say that yes, unfortunately ballet training at 16+ is in great danger of becoming elitist as middle income families now earn too much to qualify for funding of any kind…especially those with talent. Thus parents are having to find the full fees of both training and living accommodation…and of course failing to be able to do so. I feel that this will lead to a loss of talented middle income based british dancers loosing out to the ‘super high’ income or foreign students at these wonderful upper schools.

Catherine Watson No is not elitist–ballet is a form of performing arts that anyone can do.  I have lived the art form since a child. Now that I am in my fifties, I put on my New York City Ballet Workout DVDs and continue doing what I love. But, that being said, any art form can become as “elitist” as you make it. It all depends on your “attitude”–no pun intended!

Marge Porter Yes. It takes a fair amount off money to either attend a performance, run a company, or obtain decent training for any length of time and purchase necessary shoes and costumes.  Regardless of talent, scholarships are few especially among women.

Mara Dirani No, regarding what it should be, cause it’s one of the most ancient form of art, but yes, it is, ’cause of the money you have to use for private lessons, stages, travelling….

Maureen O’Toole Many Aussie Public High Schools are Performing Arts Schools and some Schools have auditions to enter e.g. Australian Ballet School and McDonald College these are still subsidised by The Education Departments of each State. I wasn’t from a well off family but somehow money was found for private lessons pointe shoes leotards etc. Some very well known ballerinas hailed from the industrial city of Newcastle N.S.W. Maybe you are using one place/country as an example?

Laurène PiCarré The prices of lessons are for sure overwhelming, but practice it stay possible for everyone so: NO

Cina Krieger well.. just doing ballett isn’t elitist.. but all the other things like lessons, shoes, training stuff, tutus ..

Jill Niess No, if there is a will there is way to pay!

Beth Morrison It shouldn’t be, however, as a mother who has a daughter on a DADA at one of the top London Schools, I fear that it has become a case that you either have to be on a “low income” or very very rich! My daughter started ballet lessons at four years old (16 years ago) and it was a hobby. I don’t think it is “Elitist” at a hobby or interest level, but if your child wants to progress to professional training, the costs are becoming prohibitive for middle income families. The kids from “low income households” are given full support with Grants and/or student loans. The middle income families (me!) get very little to no support. Now, with the DADA’s changing for 2013-2014 students, it is going to make it much worse. So, yes, I think that it is sadly getting to that stage.

Marc Meislan No, but I think that some visitors of ballet performances maybe are…

Paul Williams No.  But as with anything it will cost you to see the best.  It isn’t as popular as football but £45 to see the ENB compares well with £55 to see a top premiership team.

Adriana Mendoza Yes, it is expensive…

Karen Murrell Yes I think it is.  I am a working single Mum and the majority of my money is spent on my Daughter’s dancing.  She would love the opportunity of furthering her ballet training but I can’t afford anymore than I already do.  She will be 16 this year and has been dancing since the age of 3.  She has won ‘The Most Promising Classical Dancer’ at a local dance festival for the last two years, so I know that she has something.    I think it is a shame, because there are lots of talented kids out there that do not have the funds to be trained.

Rose Barto I think there are more modern companies out there who are working towards ending its elitist reputation – I’ve attended some performances where I wouldn’t have known it was ballet except for the pointe shoes! As the mother of a teen dancer, however, I feel ballet can price itself out of the mainstream if it’s not careful. My daughter goes to a local school and takes four classes a week plus rehearsals, but harbors no illusions of a professional career. Still, she goes through two pairs of point shoes a month – more during the performance season. There are costume fees, gas to perform with professional companies around the area, etc. But I am not sure what the answer is to the financial side of things.

Lewis Silverman I think it certainly has the reputation of being one and, to a large measure, it is.

Rhoda A Edwards As a hobby it isn’t like the above have said but if your child wishes to take it further like mine then you need an endless pocket of money…….and at the end there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it all!!! We try to see most ballet shows when money permits, my daughter has also be privet lodged to dance with EYB 3 times already and what with festivals and costumes I dread to think who much it costs so yes!!!

Kellie Revett No way!! There’s always an opportunity to see, share and enjoy it

Crystal Sweeney Scarbrough I own my own studio and we have scholarships available . But monthly fees are only 35 a month. I believe this art form should be available to everyone. Sad its not

Jill Porritt Not so much anymore, but the exception still remains!

Ewen Chan Depends on the KIND of ballet. Ballet competitions. Yea. Classical ballet. Probably. American contemporary ballet. Not nearly as much. But then the whole thing is wrapped up in a neat little ribbon/bow where those that are in the know, know, and those that don’t are sometimes shunned. And sometimes even if you’re IN, you’re only really half in. And unfortunately, even with my being in dance, sometimes even at my dance school, it feels that way with the dance department.

Chantal Slattery Yea it should be taught at lower cost or free to inner school kids. The girl who got ballet lessons at the boys and girls club and is now a famous ballerina is an example of why everyone should be exposed

Nicki Taylor I have a son who trains with The Royal Ballet and my goodness it is expensive. It’s not just fees but an average cost of £35 a week to get him to his class on Saturdays in Covent Garden and then he has classes at home as well. I think its about prioritising what you spend your income on. I have friends that every weekend go out and spend a fortune on booze where as my husband and I spend every last penny on our children. We live in Surrey which is portrayed as a wealthy area to live and yes whilst our income is steady we certainly do not fall into the high income bracket. There are slot more opportunities if living in some of the less fortunate London boroughs which is sad for those that are not classed as lower class. ( I say that loosely). However I do feel with some schools it is a case of if your face fits and of course your bank balance. Which again is very sad.

Ann Thomas There is little elist about blood,sweat, and tears !

Linds Ellman-Brown If you want to become an elite dancer, then yes, but as an art form to be learnt and enjoyed as children, then no. In Zimbabwe we had outreach program’s into low income areas which were not elitist, but here in some areas of society jn Zim and here Australia it is often very expensive and starts to become elitist at a younger and younger age due to pressures to perform and gain good exam results. But I guess wanting to do anything well, becomes elitist to some extent, unless it is gov funded (and that only happens with sport)

Niina Hagman Not in Finland. Ballet training is fairly inexpensive, especially compared to ice-hockey, football etc. And attending dance performances is also quite cheap (if you’re OK with not-so-great seats).

Alex Bill Knibb Watching or doing? Watching, not a bit of it. I find the prices aren’t prohibitively expensive (unless you’re looking at Royal or ENB in London), especially if you’re shrewd about finding deals or competitions online. I haven’t stretched to RB prices yet, would rather see Birmingham Royal three times for the same money, but that’s the same with everything – you make similar choices on all entertainment or luxury purchases. The dancers always come across as charming and approachable on Twitter and in real life if you’re lucky enough to bump into them in Wagamamas, and the companies and their staff are almost universally friendly and responsive to – and involving of – their supporters. As a relatively new fan, I’ve found it a most welcoming world!

James L.J. Nuzzo The problem is with the word “elitist” do you mean it in the crass Labour party way or as Chesterton used it?  It is an “ink blot” …

Clay Womack No. The combination of artistry with superior athleticism makes the top echelons of Ballet rarefied air… I don’t think anyone would call the NBA “elitist”…  And, I would put many Ballet professionals above some of the athletes there…

Maggie Gray Its for everyone .. But … Without money and contacts its very very hard to get on. To keep a child in a good ballet school through to the work situation costs a fortune and talent alone is not enough which is tragic for some kids, those with the finance plus a little talent can and do buy their way in…

Margarida Reis YES

Tamara Piety No

Dolores Freixas Beyond money,ballet is elevated, spiritual and poetry!!!

Christina Ling Yes, totally elitist. Hockey…now any one can play hockey with second hand pair of skates and a rink behind a school. It is accessible to the general public. They have programs to bring the sport to the under-privledged. They can work hard and get good at it from the rec level and get scouted. But for ballet… you must have knowledge of and access to classical music, knowledge of and exposure to fine arts, private lessons or go to an elite school. It is not “accessible” to the main public. You don’t dance in second hand pointe shoes, they do not “scout” dancers from rec studios…there is a threshold of money involved if someone it talented for travel to auditions, summer schools etc..

Nicki Taylor Maggie  gray you are very right. If you don’t need funding you can almost guarantee a place.

Luís Moreira No.

Iris Cortéz The ballet is beatiful, but yes, sometimes is toooo elitist

Sheila Smith No

Jennifer Ferguson Yes

Carola Kuniewski no, it is so elitist like pianoplaying or cello or something else. good schools and education are expensive, but it was worth it! when you would go great so you must invest more than money: blood, sweat and tears

Katrina Ladouceur As a career, probably.As an art, nope!

Magda Kaczmarska Not in the least – it’s only as elitist as we choose to make it and portray it

Ivelina Dimitrova Totally!!

Simon Constable The question is open to interpretation if it refers to is anyone who dances ballet is considered elitist then the answer is no but if the question is anyone who goes and watch ballet are they elitist then the answer is no but in the western world does attract a certain social economic class and in fact could be applied to theatre goers in general. This sort of implies there is a potential snobbery surrounding ballet enjoyed by the people that go to watch and used as a weapon by those that don’t. Perhaps we need to apply the mentality of many former communist republics where it was always considered as the people’s ballet. I have fond memories of watching the Cuban National Ballet in Havana in a tourist seat that cost a couple of quid and the theatre was packed to the rafters with Cubans who had paid the equivalent of pence for their seats

Mindy Wilkerson No

Christina Daily Good question. And complicated. Thought provoking. The history of ballet is steeped in European culture. But change the question to ” is dance elitist?” Then think about all the cultures that embrace dance and I think the answer is no. Every culture that embraces dance has its own rules. Ballet has its own… then look may what people like Alvin Ailey did with ballet. Compare ballet to athletic endeavors and one could make an argument that ballet is no more or less elitist then  the NFL, the NBA, the NHL – or tennis… Katrina  also makes a valid and important point that could fit with our high paid athletes as wellMoney could be the issue, (as pointed out very well from Christina Ling), but even then there are lots of stories about the children rising above that because they are good at what they do and have the passion to practice against all odds

Victoria Turk To watch no, but to support a child thru to possible professional training then sadly yes I believe it is.
Georgia Rainbow The tickets prices most definitely are not something everybody can afford. But the actual show, the magic of dance in the form of classical ballet, is something that can be appreciated by anybody with a minimum sense of beauty.

John Nichols No…just expensive

Janette Miller No!

Dianna Meadows Definitely not, there are schools for everyone and where there is determination and talent you find a way.

Kira Bambrick Well, heres the thing. When I was younger I had to stop and start ballet lessons and then when I could finally stay my parents could only afford one class a week. I teach dance now, but had it been different and dance less expensive I may have gotten a career as a dancer. So in that regard, yes I believe it is

Ruth Fiedler so what is meant by elitist – you need disposable income then yes.  But many people who love the art save in order to go and see it.  Some families give up a lot so their kids can dance.  I know one family who has a daughter (16) who loves dancing ballet.   They can not afford the many lessons for her to learn but she does 2 ballet lessons each week instead of 3 and the stretch/pilates, contemporary, jazz that the others do but she gives 110% to each lesson and still manages to go into competitions, is part of the senior ballet group that goes to eisteddfod and dances in the Advanced 1 (RAD syllabus) class.

Sunny Roche It’s an art form

Alisa Nishanova Absolutely! We are superior because it is so much more difficult to combine art and hard physical work.

Richard Davis No

Andrea Pulgar yes !

2 Responses to Do you think that ballet is elitist ?

  1. Ballet News March 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Sheila Vernick Orysiek commented Sports events are expensive, too. I’m tired of defending against the silliness of the “elitism” label.

  2. Ballet News March 10, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Jen Griffiths said I was taught basic Ballet by a friend of my Grandmother Miss Irene Spencer a classic ballet dancer as a teenager I became bored & lost interest Now how sorry am I. Irene Spencer as I now learn was the best teacher in the North Wales area ….