One of the big questions many keen young ballerinas will ask in class is how long does it take to become a professional ballerina? And the answer is a tricky one because there are lots of things to consider and everyone is different.
Let’s start by saying that a general average is about 9 years. So, if you start at age 10, you could be looking at turning pro at around 19 years old. Some people do it quicker, some people take longer. But even then, it isn’t the finish of the story.
When are you classed as a ‘professional ballerina?’
Before we dive into more numbers, let’s take a moment to consider what it really means to be a professional ballerina. The simplest explanation is that you are someone who is paid to dance rather than paying to learn to dance. Some people would argue that just because you are paid, you may not be a professional. That’s why there are also different terms used to further quantify this.
When a dancer is first accepted into a company, they are termed as an apprentice. This usually means they are no longer an amateur but may not be paid for dancing yet. However, they don’t have to pay for training, shoes, equipment or anything needed to perform. Some people see this as the first time you can be called a professional, even if you aren’t being paid a wage for dancing.
The 10,000-hour rule
While there is nothing in the guide to ballet that says you must have a certain amount of hours of practice to become a professional, some experts have to take a look at the professionals and come up with the 10,000-hour rule.
This takes the idea that you need 9 years of practice to make a professional and works out at just over 21 hours a week. Of course, no-one expects a 9 or 10-year-old to be doing 20+ hours of dance practise a week.
Therefore, the idea is to increase the amount of training per week as the dancer gets older. An example could be:
- Age 9 - 4 hours a week
- Aged 13 - 20 hours a week
- Aged 18 - 30 hours a week
Following a scale like this where each year, the number of hours a week is increased, the dancer will reach that 10,000 hours by the age of 20-21 if they started at the age of 9. Others start earlier but don’t increase their hours as quickly. While others start later and cram in more training.
The training never stops
The other thing to remember is that once you reach that stage of being a professional, the training and work doesn’t stop. Most professionals will dance for around 10 hours a day and will be in classes, training or performing 5-6 days a week.
So, while aiming for a certain number of years or hours of training can give you something to work towards, it is worth remembering that it isn’t job done - being a professional is just the next step in your ballet career.