Careers in Ballet: Understanding a Ballet Company Hierarchy

Dyumna Chhabraartist, Ballet, careers Leave a Comment

A career in dance can seem daunting, especially without access to information or resources to navigate this vast field. Yet, for those whose hearts beat to the rhythm of dance, few paths offer more fulfillment. A life dedicated to dance not only brings immense satisfaction but also keeps you in a constant state of flow, giving joy in every movement.

Understanding the journey of ballet company dancers is crucial. Read on to learn what it means to be in the “corps de ballet” or to be a “principal dancer” and how ballet company dancers lay out their performing journey.

Corps de Ballet

The Corps de Ballet comprises the largest group of dancers in a ballet company. It serves as the foundation for aspiring dancers to hone their skills, technique, and artistry in the early stages of their careers. Integral to the performance, the corps de ballet creates intricate patterns on stage, contributing to the overall aesthetic of the production. Moving up the ranks, the ‘coryphée‘ assumes a leadership role within the corps de ballet.

Photo from Peter Wright’s Royal Ballet production of The Nutcracker, 2015. Photographed by Tristram Kenton.


As the name suggests, soloists within a ballet company perform solo showcasing their strong technical foundation and versatility. With the ability to tackle demanding roles, soloists often serve as understudies for leading roles. They are feature dancers but not the carriers of the story.

In frame: Xander Parish, Mariinksky Ballet

Principal Dancer

Principal dancers ascend through the ranks to achieve the esteemed position of principal dancer. With years of experience and expertise in the art form, they perform with technical precision and embody characters with the utmost authenticity, bringing depth and emotion to their performances. They bear the narrative weight of the ballet and are the carriers of the story.

In frame: Mira Nadon. Photo by: Erin Baiano. 

While these three are common across most ballet companies, there are a few other ranks that are specific to many. For example: at The Paris Opera ‘Étoile’ or ‘star dancer’ is the highest rank one can achieve, and at The Royal Ballet, there is a position called ‘Principal Character Artist’ which is played by those who have a good hold over acting, character dance, and ballet mime. Also, principal character artists are usually former soloists or principal dancers.

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Click below to watch The Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake’s dancers talk about being in the corps de ballet.

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