The Royal Ballet School has been offering pre-vocational classical ballet training through its Associate programme for over 60 years. Created in 1948 by the School’s founder, Dame Ninette de Valois, the programme offers regional training across the UK so gifted young dancers can hone their dance skills before they’re old enough to apply for full-time training.
The programme provides weekly ballet classes along with many other benefits and activities. In some cases, Associate students get to perform with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other notable ballet companies. Many students then go on to join White Lodge in Richmond Park, London, the home for the School’s students aged 11-16, and progress through the School to start future careers in The Royal Ballet Companies.
The Royal Ballet School’s Associate programme nurtures young, talented students from ages 8-18 who show an aptitude for dance and aspire to pursue careers in classical ballet. The programme enhances the existing training of young dancers whilst introducing them to The Royal Ballet School’s System of Training. This System of Training informs the Associate programme curriculum, which the School’s Artistic team has carefully developed. It includes national dance, historical dance, natural movement, and pointe work, as suits the age and development of the pupils.
The programme runs through the UK education system’s academic year, usually from September to July of the following calendar year. Children attend weekly lessons at nine centres across the UK in London, Bath, Birmingham, Dundee, Eastleigh (Southampton), Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and Totnes.
In addition to the Saturday classes, each lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes, it is the School’s policy that pupils continue to train with their regular, local dance teachers. The School invites all Associate students’ existing dance teachers to observe an Associate class at a time that suits them. In these classes, the Associates study with other gifted children who share their passion for dance, and many go on to make lifelong friends.
The Associate programme offers training split into four age-appropriate categories, catering to children at school Key Stages 2 to 4 and beyond.
The Junior Associate programme gives children aged 8-10 (school years 4, 5, and 6) an introduction to The Royal Ballet School System of Training. Those who wish to apply don’t need specific experience, though the School recommends parents and guardians speak to their child’s dance teacher if unsure about their participation. Children should be able to travel to the closest Associate centre each week for classes during the academic year.
The programme’s lessons cover crucial foundational subjects such as body conditioning, port de bras, jumps, barre work, and centre work, including preparation for pirouettes.
The Mid Associate programme is for children aged 11-13 (school years 7, 8, and 9) and offers a more developed understanding of The Royal Ballet School System of Training. Opportunities are available for Mid Associate boys to attend the London Centre, where the School holds specialist male sessions. Like the Junior Associates, Mid Associate students should be able to travel to their nearest centre for classes throughout the year.
Classes build on the Junior programme with body conditioning, barre work, centre work (including pirouettes), and allegro. Girls also practise pre-pointe work strengthening and pointework.
The Senior Associate programme gives boys and girls aged 14-15 (school years 10 and 11) an even deeper knowledge of The Royal Ballet School System of Training. Classes run on Saturdays from September to July in London and Birmingham, and students must travel to either city. As with the Mid Associate programme, the Senior programme encourages boys to attend supplementary lessons at the London Centre.
Classes continue to focus on body conditioning, allegro, barre work, centre work, and pointe work for girls. At this stage, girls must be en pointe. This is an entry requirement.
The Advanced Associate programme offers enhanced training for students aged 16-17 who show a clear commitment to the study of classical ballet. Pupils must be able to attend classes at The Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden on Saturdays.
Classes expand on the subjects covered in previous programmes (body conditioning, barre work, centre work, allegro, and pointe work for girls) and move on to cover repertoire. As in the Senior programme, girls at this age must be en pointe.
Students of all ages taking part in the programme have access to various exciting opportunities. Alongside weekly classes, the School sends out invitations to one pre-general rehearsal at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, an in-studio workshop, and an online workshop, each of which further progresses dancers’ training and understanding of the art form. There is no extra charge for these activities.
The Royal Ballet School hosts in-person workshops at Upper School. These give Junior, Senior, and Advanced Associates the chance to visit the site and gain new experiences in ballet education. One recent example of these workshops saw Senior and Advanced Associates working on repertoire from Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! with the New Adventures dance-theatre company. Students also took part in a ballet audition preparation class with the School’s Birmingham Associate teacher Rachel Hester.
For younger pupils, the Junior Associate workshops this year inspired children to come up with fairy personas based on the fairies from The Sleeping Beauty. The School also presented a historical dance workshop for Year 5 students led by Associate teacher Nicola Gains.
Insight Days allow young dancers studying at school in years 3-10 to experience a typical Junior, Mid, and Senior Associate programme lesson either in person or online. Junior Associate Insight Days take place at the Associate centres and online, whilst Mid and Senior Associate Insight Days are online only, allowing students to experience training with the School from the comfort of their own homes.
Each year, the School gives a select number of students the opportunity to take part in these Insight Days. New places will become available in September 2022.
Associate students are occasionally asked to partake in productions by The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other visiting companies. Selection is down to suitability for a particular role. The Company pays a set contribution towards the travel expenses for the chosen young dancers and applies for a licence from the Local Education Authority for the child to perform.
The School believes that no student should feel discouraged to apply due to a lack of finances, and supplies means-tested financial support to qualifying families for course fees, uniform costs, and travel bursaries. All Associate students travelling over 150 miles one-way to their Associate Centre may apply for a travel bursary.
The Leverhulme Trust, a grant-making organisation in the UK that supports educational and research scholarships, generously supports the Associate programme.
Applications for the Mid, Senior, and Advanced Associate programmes open yearly in September and close in October. Auditions take place from November to January for courses beginning at the start of the next academic year, the following September.
Applications for the Junior Associate programme open each year in February and close in March, with auditions held during the academic summer term for courses starting in September. The School holds audition classes at the nine Associate centres for all students who have applied by the closing dates.
The Royal Ballet School prides itself on a history of excellence in classical ballet training. Since its founding in 1926, the School has been a key contributor to the Company’s rich heritage, producing generations of leading international performers and choreographers such as Margot Fonteyn, Darcey Bussell, and Steven McRae.
Alongside a world-renowned academic and dance education at its London-based centre, the School offers a number of pre-vocational programmes for children across the UK. Its mission is to make its unique expertise, teachers, and resources accessible to the general public, allowing more young people to gain a passion for the art form, and ensuring the bright future of classical ballet.