From Copenhagen, Denmark, to San Francisco, CA, a ballet student's day starts the same way: with class. Ballet class is a given at schools around the world, but there is a myriad of differences—from the studios to the technique—between them. We decided to pack up our dance bags, grab our passports, and take a trip around the globe for class at four different schools: The Royal Ballet School in London, England; Royal Danish Ballet School in Copenhagen, Denmark; San Francisco Ballet School in San Francisco, CA; and the Tanya Pearson Academy in St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia.
The Royal Ballet School, London, England
Year 7 students take class at the White Lodge (Rachel Cherry, courtesy The Royal Ballet School)
The Royal Ballet School, which is the Royal Ballet's official feeder school, is steeped in history. Founded in 1926, its alumni list—which includes Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and Alessandra Ferri, among others—speaks for itself.
The school, which currently enrolls over 200 students, has two sites: one in Richmond Park, the other in Covent Garden. The Covent Garden campus is adjacent to the Royal Ballet's studios, so run-ins with some of the world's preeminent ballet dancers are a common occurrence. Students at the school learn the official Royal Ballet School System of Training, developed by Dame Ninette de Valois, who founded both the company and the school. It's informed by the many greats de Valois learned from, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti, Nikolai Legat, and Olga Preobrajenska.
"It is a great privilege to work at The Royal Ballet School with not only students, but also staff, who are focused, committed, and talented. As a team, we are united in the common goal: ensure every student achieves their full potential during their time with us." —Jessica Clarke, artistic manager
"Dancing at The Royal Ballet School is so special because you're treated as an individual and not compared to others. You feel that every teacher really cares about every student, not only in ballet class, but in all aspects of their training and life." —a third-year student
Royal Danish Ballet School, Copenhagen, Denmark
Royal Danish Ballet School students taking class (Camilla Winther, courtesy Royal Danish Ballet School)
Founded in 1771, the Royal Danish Ballet School serves as the official training school for the Royal Danish Ballet. The school offers both dance and academic training, thanks to a curriculum provided by the Danish public school system, which means that students graduate with a high school diploma. The school's 110 to 120 students are taught the Bournonville method, founded by Danish ballet master August Bournoville. It's a distinctly Danish technique that emphasizes natural flow, musicality, and alignment.
The theater itself (where all the classes are taught) features beautiful arches, intricate carvings, and large round windows that dot the façade of the upper level, making for a distinctly European feel within the studios."I love passing the school's traditions on from generation to generation. It unites us as a family. Bournonville gives our students incredible strength, musicality, and flow. They channel their inner actor so they can interpret certain roles in the Bournonville repertoire they'll be dancing later in their career." —Thomas Lund, former Royal Danish Ballet principal and current Royal Danish Ballet School headmaster
"I think American ballet students would be surprised by just how unique the Bournonville style really is. It's quite special in Denmark because of its history and heritage within the world of Danish ballet." —Nicolas Markovic, second-year Apprentice Program student
San Francisco Ballet School, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Ballet School students stretching before class (Brandon Patoc, courtesy San Francisco Ballet School)
Right in the heart of San Francisco sits San Francisco Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet's official training school. Their training method is rooted in strong classical technique, with equal parts energy and athleticism—a combo that reflects the demands of the company's broad repertory.
SF Ballet School boasts an all-star faculty roster—its teachers have danced with companies including American Ballet Theatre, English National Ballet, and, of course, San Francisco Ballet. The students (all 500-plus of them!) come from all over the world, as well, traveling from as far as Asia and Australia.
"SF Ballet School trains dancers with strong classical technique who can adapt to different styles, preparing them to join companies like SF Ballet, where 65 percent of the company is made up of former students. We pride ourselves on building a roster of teachers who offer diverse perspectives on the art form, and give students the opportunities to perform with the company, tour throughout the world, and choreograph new ballets alongside today's top dance makers." —Patrick Armand, director of SF Ballet School
"I've been training at SF Ballet School for 12 years. I've learned from some of the world's best teachers, performed with the company alongside dancers I've admired since I was a young girl, and have been given the opportunity to develop my skills as a choreographer. I think it's wonderful that we get to take class and rehearse in the same building where company members start their day, too." —Pemberley Ann Olson, SF Ballet trainee
Tanya Pearson Academy, St. Leonards, Australia
Tanya Pearson Academy students at the barre (Daniel Asher Smith, courtesy Tanya Pearson Academy)
The students and alumni of Tanya Pearson Academy consistently snag top spots at Youth America Grand Prix and Prix de Lausanne, as well spots at some of the most competitive ballet schools around the world, and contracts with companies including The Australian Ballet.
Founded in 1971 by Tanya Pearson, the academy is now under the direction of Lucinda Dunn, OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia), a former principal with The Australian Ballet (and the company's longest-serving dancer ever). There are currently around 60 full-time students and 250 part-time students enrolled. The academy also has a partnership with Sydney City Ballet, which provides students with invaluable stage and performance experiences.
"Each student that is accepted to the academy has huge aspirations to become a professional dancer, and that path is both arduous and long. The faculty have all danced professionally and are an incredibly inspired and inspiring group of teachers. They give their best to all students, and provide them with an atmosphere in which they can thrive, flourish, and reach their full potential." —Lucinda Dunn, OAM, Artistic Director
"I moved from Chicago, IL, to study at Tanya Pearson Academy. Without a doubt, I have received excellent training and guidance from their exceptional teachers and physio staff. The academy has afforded me many wonderful opportunities and rewarding experiences, including my acceptance into the prestigious Vaganova BalletAcademy in Russia." —Claire Zalunardo, 2019 full-time program graduate