Prima Ballerina

Rachel Hanson
Prima Ballerina en Pointe

Most young ballerinas dream of one day becoming a prima ballerina. Although most young dancers will never reach this level, taking ballet lessons throughout childhood, accompanied by the requisite dance recitals, is a formative experience for many other aspects of life. The dream of becoming a famous ballet dancer does not need to be realized in order to love and appreciate the talent, grace, and skill that prima ballerinas around the world exhibit.

Meaning of Prima Ballerina

"Prima" is a word originated from Latin, which means 'first'. Think of words like "premier" or "primordial" that also come from this Latin root. Putting the words together then means that 'prima ballerina' is a term used to refer to the 'first' ballerinas of a company. These ballerinas are the ones who are featured most often, have the most experience, and are the highest up in the company.

Anatomy of a Ballet Company

Ballet companies are made up in a hierarchical structure. Dance masters, artistic directors, and choreographers form the top of the structure, and the dancers are divided into various levels. When dancers first join the company from a professional ballet school or from a professional audition, they join the corps de ballet--this group is the dancers who dance all as a group during performances. The least experienced corps members will appear least often, and the more experienced members will appear in smaller groups within performances. As dancers develop and start to command the spotlight, they become soloists. Soloists with a lot of experience and exceptional talent go on to become "principal dancers." The term prima ballerina usually applies to a principal female dancer; some female soloists get awarded the prestigious term prima ballerina as well.

Famous Prima Ballerinas

In the long history of ballet, there have been many remarkable ballerinas that have inspired generations of young dancers to take up ballet and to study dancing intensively. Even though ballet is often an intense hobby, young girls are often inspired to dance ballet because of the grace and beauty of the great ballerinas around the world.

In the Americas, many principal female dancers inspire young dancers. Some of the most famous ballet dancers in America are not American, however. For example, Margot Fonteyn is one of America's favorite ballerinas, but Fonteyn was British. Like the Beatles, she became an instant celebrity when she toured America for the first time.

Famous American ballerinas of the 20th century include Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Darci Kistler, Patricia McBride, and Kyra Nichols. Every year, new ballerinas are promoted to soloist and to principal dancer in companies all around the world. While all of these dancers are revered within the realm of their own company and their own loyal audiences, some of these ballerinas gain popularity with the general public. For example, Sylvie Guillem, a French ballerina, gained popularity with people from all walks of life, partly due to her grace and talent, and partly due to her work, which extended beyond the stage to include, among others, television.

Famous Ballerinas

The names of the following famous ballet dancers are well known around the world:

  • Alicia Alonso
  • Irina Dvorovenko
  • Fanny Elssler
  • Megan Fairchild
  • Suzanne Farrell
  • Margot Fonteyn
  • Adeline Genée
  • Carlotta Grisi
  • Sylvie Guillem
  • Evelyn Hart
  • Melissa Hayden
  • Rowena Jackson
  • Allegra Kent
  • Darci Kistler
  • Alicia Markova
  • Patricia McBride
  • Kyra Nichols
  • Anna Pavlova
  • Olga Preobrajenska
  • Moira Shearer
  • Marie Taglioni
  • Maria Tallchief
  • Diana Vishneva
  • Wendy Whelan
  • Svetlana Zakharova

Becoming a Famous Ballerina

If your goal is to make it all the way in ballet, that is, to becoming a very famous ballerina, the key to success is to not be afraid of hard work. Dance must be a big priority in your life; you should practice many times a week (preferably every day), and attend summer camps and intensives as well as your year-round dance school. As you get older, you can take more and more lessons and try more and more styles of dance in order to perfect your technique. Go to auditions for prestigious schools if there are any in your area. Dancer careers start young, so attending a high-quality school from the age of 10 or 13 onwards is a good idea if you hope to audition for companies and company schools between the ages of 16 and 20. Most important of all though is a love for dancing. If you truly love dancing, all this hard work will be more than worth it!

Prima Ballerina