The School of American Ballet was founded in 1934 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein as the first step in their quest to establish an American ballet company. Fourteen years later, New York City Ballet was born. SAB has been NYCB’s official academy ever since, providing the vast majority of the company’s dancers as well as training dancers for other companies around the globe.
SAB is located in the heart of classical performing arts in New York City—at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Its home in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building consists of seven sun-filled, state-of-the-art studios dressing rooms, lounges, Pilates and physical therapy facilities, and several floors of the attached Meredith Willson Residence Hall.
SAB’s faculty consists primarily of current and past New York City Ballet dancers, a number of whom worked directly with George Balanchine. At all levels of training they strive to communicate the fine points of classicism that are the foundation of Balanchine’s aesthetic—teaching students to move with musicality, control, precision, speed and expansiveness. SAB and New York City Ballet have historically shared a common artistic leader: founder George Balanchine until his death in 1983, Peter Martins from 1983-2017, and, as of February 2019, Jonathan Stafford.
Approximately 550 boys and girls, ranging in age from six to nineteen, attend classes during the School's ten-month Winter Term. A five-week Summer Course attracts an additional 200 of the nation's top ballet students; and a two-week training program for young dancers is offered every August in Southern California. In 2018 SAB will introduce a one-week NYC intensive for students aged 10-12. Admission is by audition only.
Since its earliest days, SAB has endeavored to ensure that talented individuals unable to pay full tuition would nonetheless have access to the expert guidance of the School’s faculty. Many early scholarships were underwritten personally by School co-founder Lincoln Kirstein, whose passion for ballet and young artists inspired boundless philanthropy. Today SAB operates on the same precepts, strengthened a thousand-fold by dedicated fundraising of $2 million annually for scholarships which allow promising youngsters to pursue dreams of classical ballet careers despite limited personal resources.
Financial assistance primarily takes the form of tuition, room & board, and academic subsidies; pointe shoe discounts; and travel stipends. Among the top beneficiaries are Intermediate and Advanced students from around the U.S. and abroad who have left their homes to live in SAB’s on-site Residence Hall; over 100 boys enrolled in the Children’s Division who attend tuition-free as part of the special Boys Program; and young girls from the tri-state area whose families otherwise would not be able to afford ballet training. During the 2017-18 Winter Term, 46 percent of the student body receives some degree of financial aid, including 59 percent of advanced students.
While most students enrolled in the School's Children's Division are residents of the New York metropolitan area, students in the Intermediate and Advanced Divisions hail from over 25 U.S. states and five foreign countries. During Winter Term, over five dozen of these non-local students reside in the School's on-site residence hall; most Summer Course students live in the residence hall for the five-week program.
Many SAB students have unique opportunities to gain performing experience through the School’s affiliation with New York City Ballet. Younger students are featured in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Coppélia, among other ballets. Advanced students may perform in the School’s Spring Workshop, both SAB’s and the NYCB Education Department’s Lecture-Demonstration programs, SAB’s Student Choreography Workshop, and the NYCB-affiliated New York Choreographic Institute.
SAB considers the artistic representation of cultural and racial diversity as essential, and therefore regards an official, organization-wide focus on cultivating such diversity as a natural extension of its original mission. The School launched its formal Diversity Initiative in 2012, and through the enhancement of existing offerings or the introduction of new programs, the student body has been transformed, with students of color representing 38% of overall Winter Term enrollment and 44% of the Children’s Division. Among ongoing efforts to bolster awareness and access to SAB’s resources are annual free family performances and free community auditions in New York City’s boroughs, a national visiting fellows program for teachers serving diverse communities around the U.S., and integrated programming on topics of diversity and inclusion for SAB’s students and staff. The overarching goal of SAB’s Diversity Initiative is to demonstrably affect the racial and ethnic composition of professional stages worldwide through the dancers it produces.
Approximately 20 advanced students receive contracts with major professional dance companies each year. In addition to NYCB, where alumni of the School comprise ninety-six percent of the current company roster, SAB students go on to dance for Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Danish Ballet, among many others. Many alumni have gone on to establish or direct major dance companies and schools, including Dance Theatre of Harlem, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
While SAB is the official academy of New York City Ballet, it is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with its own Board, administration, budget and fundraising.
Performing photos by Paul Kolnik, all other photos by Rosalie O'Connor. George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® and Raymonda Variations choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust