Thousands of dancers apply every year for admittance into the Vaganova Ballet Academy but only a few make it in because it’s difficult and it’s gruesome. But then again, nobody expects the life of a ballet dancer to be easy. They are placed on a strict diet for life and they spend long hours practicing and training from a very young age. Basically, those who decide to follow that road, have to give up parts of their childhood.
Mothers want their daughters to become prima ballerinas, so even though it means hardly seeing them for years, they brave it and let go. Unfortunately primas are few and far between, though. In fact, some experts believe one is born every ten years. An instructor at the Vaganova Academy states that a prima is a girl who has a perfect blend of physique, ability, charisma, and looks. You add hard work to that and then you have a star. All the others become corps-de-ballet dancers or theater professionals.
The girls who aspire to get into the Academy stand before the judges in small groups. Only the best will be admitted because of its strict learning conditions. For this audition, the little girls must dance topless, wearing nothing but thin, skin colored panties so judges can observe how they control their muscles and determine whether they have a pure ballet physique. They are seeking perfection and they know exactly what it looks like. The judges can decide to eliminate the girls based on their lack of skills and even on their predictions regarding bone growth and body development.
The newcomers are usually oblivious to the difficulties they will need to face once they’re accepted into the Academy. The first shock is probably how demanding it is on their time and bodies from the very beginning. Also, when the realization of how much they miss their mothers hits them, it usually leads to tears.
The Vaganova Academy of Ballet was established in 1738 by Imperial Decree of Empress Anna in St. Petersburg, which was then the capital of Russia. The Academy currently has about 340 students and it’s considered the best of its kind in the world. If students don’t show progress by the end of the school year, they are dropped. Only about half of each year’s new students complete the eight-year curriculum and graduate.
Being a professional ballet dancer is exhausting. In order to be able to live the fairy-tale on stage, dancers have to be willing to suffer and work hard behind the scenes.