The Joffrey Ballet School – A View From The Inside

This week one of my trainees at The Joffrey Ballet School asked me the following question:

“Mr. Bill, why does our school have such a bad reputation; why did my teacher at my home studio try to discourage me from joining the trainee program here?”

I have been aware of the perceptions that our industry has of my place of employment: my beloved Joffrey Ballet School. There was a scathing article some time ago that strongly criticized the Joffrey Ballet School. This article made the rounds of all the usual social media sites and due to my large social media presence, many people reached out to me for a comment. I chose to remain silent. I have always believed that the best way for one to respond to the “nay sayers” is simply by doing the excellent work that one does and letting the result speak for itself.

I have also, over the past few years, received messages from teachers that went something like this:

“One of my students who is not very advanced was accepted into the Joffrey Trainee program. This is really making me question as to whether I should be sending my talented and advanced students to audition for your program. It seems that Joffrey just accepts anybody.”

And again, I remained silent.

But now that the questions are coming from my STUDENTS, the young developing artists that have placed their careers in my hands, I can no longer remain silent.

The Joffrey Ballet School in New York City is unlike any other ballet school in the world. Our program has as its foundation solid Russian training based in the Vaganova Methodology. Our faculty members who teach these technique, pas de deux and variations classes are graduates of the Vaganova Academy and the Perm Academy, two of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world. But in addition to this foundational training, our program includes Balanchine style classes taught by a retired New York City Ballet soloist who worked and trained under Mr. Balanchine, Character Dance taught by a principal from the Moisseyev Company, Modern Dance taught by a choreographer with the Alvin Ailey Company, Flamenco taught by a former partner of Jose Greco, Jazz taught by a recognized expert and disciple of Luigi (😉), “American Style” ballet classes taught by former Joffrey Company members and many other faculty members who are simply brilliant teachers. We have a curriculum that will prepare BALLET dancers for ANYTHING that a professional company might ask of them. In addition, our dancers are trained in anatomy, health and wellness, nutrition, dance history, critical analysis and are offered choreographic opportunities. I do not know of any other BALLET trainee program that offers this broad of a curriculum.

With respect to the criteria for acceptance into the trainee program: the perception that “Joffrey accepts anyone” simply isn’t true.

WE HAVE A VERY DIFFERENT SET OF CRITERIA FOR ACCEPTANCE AND WE ARE RUNNING A VERY DIFFERENT TYPE OF SCHOOL, WITH DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT GOALS.

The typical preprofessional ballet programs are all looking for and competing for the same students. They are looking for the most accomplished young dancers with the best anatomical physiques. They are looking for the students that they will most likely be able to groom for high level ballet careers. I have a colleague who has taught at this kind of school (and we all know the schools to which I am referring). When I asked her what it was like teaching there her response was “it’s really not teaching…they are so good, and the level is so high. It is more like polishing and finishing”. And clearly these dancers need these programs to get them ready for their careers. One of our Joffrey students left our school to attend one of these schools…she confided in me, after one year, that the training she had received at Joffrey was better.

This is not the student that Joffrey is specifically looking for, nor is this the kind of training that Joffrey is doing (for the most part)…The Joffrey Ballet School has as its goal to simply TEACH ballet.

The Joffrey Ballet School does not accept students based on their body type. The Joffrey Ballet School does not accept students based on what they can DO at an audition. The Joffrey Ballet School accepts students based on the POTENTIAL that we see in them. And I believe that there is something very noble in that…because I was the student who would have NOT been accepted at one of those prestigious preprofessional programs. I was the student that was too old, too short, too broad, too inflexible to accept. I’m sorry that some studio director didn’t see in her “not very advanced student” what we saw. But the potential in a student, the discipline in a student, the desire, drive, the determination and the passion in a student is what we look for. And we take that student, whatever “level”, body type and age that they may be and we TEACH them. We teach them with care, with love, with passion and respect. And at the end of the four year program we put them through their paces at their final assessment (which, incidentally is open to the public). And it is at this assessment that the result of this training can be seen.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that “they are all brilliant” because clearly I’m biased. I’m simply going to tell you that somewhere in the range of 80% of our fourth year students secured professional contracts upon completing our program. Let the result speak for itself.

I will never forget the morning I opened my email to find a job offer from the Joffrey Ballet School. A Joffrey faculty member had taken an open class that I was teaching at a very small school and she made the recommendation. She saw something in me that no other preprofessional ballet school saw. She made that recommendation based on what I did in the classroom. She made that recommendation based in the quality of my teaching and not on a brilliant performing resume. And Joffrey listened. That day changed my life forever. And so I endeavor every day to change the lives of my students; to see the potential in them, to see the dancer that is somewhere at the core of that student. And every day I, and my brilliant colleagues, endeavor to reach and train that dancer. I am incredibly proud to be part of this school, the school that will accept a student based solely on their potential. A school that has as its goal to simply TEACH. And as I have said with respect to the “nay-sayers”:

If one simply keeps on doing the excellent work that one does, the result will speak for itself.

5 thoughts on “The Joffrey Ballet School – A View From The Inside

  1. This is my school exactly, ! These environments find the dancers who will dance regardless of the outcome, they are a joy to teach, unique and equally perfect 💜

    Like

  2. Thank you for writing an excellent article regarding Joffrey Ballet School.
    I taught Tap and Jazz there in the 1980’s
    I was working with Ballet dancers who
    Had an opportunity to learn other forms of Dance. Joffrey school has always gave Dancers the education they need to be be able to become proficient
    in all forms of dance. Through Joffrey
    School I taught deaf students At Lexington school for the Deaf to Tap Dance. It was an amazing experience.

    Like

  3. Thank you for writing an excellent article regarding Joffrey Ballet School.
    I taught Tap and Jazz there in the 1980’s
    I was working with Ballet dancers who
    Had an opportunity to learn other forms of Dance. Joffrey school has always given Dancers the education they need to be be able to become proficient
    in all forms of dance. Through Joffrey
    School I taught deaf students At Lexington school for the Deaf to Tap Dance. It was an amazing experience.

    Like

  4. Thank you for your article that confirms the NY school is run very much in the spirit of the company founded by Bob Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. I wonder if the Chicago based school is run in this same spirit. I know people who do teach there, but not so much about the trainee program.

    Like

    • I have no knowledge of what is going on in the Chicago program. The school in New York is the original Joffrey ballet school set up by Robert Joffrey and has been in continuous operation, in the same space since “day 1”. The school in Chicago it was set up by the company, after Joffrey’s passing , when the company moved its homebase to Chicago. It is a completely separate institution from the school in New York.

      Like

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