It’s no secret that ballet- as a career, hobby or interest- can be expensive. There’s the cost of classes, dancewear, shoes, physiotherapy, auditions- and that’s just scratching the surface. So, if we’re being honest, is ballet only really viable for those who are ‘better off’ financially? Well, as someone who is not from a privileged background, I can say that it’s certainly not easy, and the more serious you get, the harder it is to find a way to finance your dream. Ballet is something more often pursued by the middle classes- probably due in part to the fact that those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are not exposed to cultural arts in the way that richer children are- however, even those with good incomes can feel the pinch when it comes to financing ballet. For those of us who struggle when it comes to meeting the ever-mounting cost of ballet, know that it is possible to make things easier. The secret is thinking outside the box, and coming up with innovative solutions that suit your situation.
Lesson One- Know Where to Spend
Okay, so ballet, in most cases, is not something you can do for free. Regardless of whether you end up with a full scholarship and all the help you can ask for, even Billy Elliot had to start out by paying those fifty pences. One thing it’s important to invest in is the lessons themselves. Remember, the most expensive training isn’t necessarily the best training. A serious student looking for a career should look for a teacher who has themselves had excellent training (perhaps even at a prestigious academy such as the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg or the Royal Ballet School in London), and a professional career, to better prepare their students for the industry. Those looking to take up ballet for fitness and fun, perhaps as an adult beginner or a parent enrolling your child into classes for the first time, needn’t be so exacting. The teacher should be passionate and knowledgeable, with good credentials. Research the method of learning; RAD or ISTD qualified teachers will provide solid, progressive training that centres around learning a syllabus and taking exams. This has its own pros and cons- think about what would best suit you and your child. For everyone, the studio itself should have plenty of natural light, mirrors, a proper barre and a sprung wooden floor with a non-slip surface (never dance somewhere with a concrete or a slippery floor as this will cause injury). A live pianist is an excellent addition but not essential to good training. It may be worth making a list of points that are important to you when choosing a teacher and studio. Also remember to factor in travel costs when making your choice, and how many lessons you want to take per week.
Another thing you shouldn’t skimp on is pointe shoes. A young dancer or adult beginner first starting out on pointe will not go through many pairs, but a more advanced student may need to replace their shoes regularly. Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are made of modern materials, and are more expensive but last longer than traditional shoes- they may be worth a try if you find you are going through shoes too quickly. When you are buying your first shoes, if your feet have grown, or you are changing brands, the shoes need to be properly fitted- make an appointment in the dancewear shop you buy your shoes from. Once you have a favourite brand and know your size, you can buy the shoes online at a slightly discounted price. Always buy the shoes that are right for you, not the cheapest pair, and never keep dancing on shoes that are too soft to support your feet. Nasty injuries can happen this way. (On a side note, as someone with not a lot of money, I have often worn cheap street shoes, and this has caused injuries to my feet from lack of support. Spend a bit more on proper street shoes to protect your feet- good quality shoes last longer anyway so this investment usually pays for itself.)
Lesson Two- Ask to Receive
Although it can be hard to find, there is financial help out there. Studios may offer discounts to those on low incomes or benefits, and many offer a discounted price for students taking a certain number of classes or to parents who have more than one child taking classes. These discounts are not always advertised, so do ask. If no such discounts are in place, and you are really struggling, it may be worth asking if an exception might be made- the worst they can say is no! Also, many studios will allow you to pay the fees monthly as opposed to at the start of each term- this really helps to spread the cost. Again, if it is not already common practice, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
For students undertaking vocational training, the costs are higher. At the audition stage, many institutions will offer audition fee waivers to a certain number of applicants, so get your applications in quickly to be eligible. If you enrol on to a course that also offers a degree, not only do you also get a degree out of your training, but in the UK (if you are a UK citizen), you are eligible for student finance from Student Finance England/ Scotland/ Wales. Some schools which are not eligible for this (again I am speaking for the UK here only, however similar bodies may well exist in your country, so do a bit of research as this may prove fruitful!) offer funding through the Dance and Drama Awards– this funding is limited, so again, do your research and apply early. Private schools who are eligible for neither of these (like the institution I study at) often offer good scholarship programmes or tailor the fees to suit each student. There are other, lesser known sources of funding, usually for much smaller amounts or only for specific costs/ purchases but can really make a difference when you need it. Sometimes the criteria is bizarrely specific but this is great if you fit the bill. Ideas Tap is a website providing support and information for those in creative industries, and has a huge wealth of information on funding. There are even competitions you can enter to win funding and mentoring. Check it out!
Lesson Three- Earning
If you are a student, can you work part-time to supplement your training? If you have no classes on the weekends, this can be a good time to earn extra money. It’s not an ideal way to train for a demanding career, but it is better than having to give up your dream because of money problems. In fact, working hard for something you love can make you fully appreciate the value of your ambitions, and make you work all the harder to achieve your goals. In fact, it may be worth asking the school or studio you are training at if you can do some work for them in exchange for discounted fees or free lessons. If you are a more advanced student, perhaps you can teach the younger children. Do you have admin skills that could prove useful? Even cleaning; it’s worth asking. This time-for-time exchange is a great way to pay for your training and builds good relationships with those at your studio. If you have other skills, you can use these to make money- if you are crafty maybe you can make things to sell online.
Lesson Four- Smart Buying
Dancewear can be pricey but you can make great savings if you know where to look. Studios often have set-ups whereby parents can purchase second-hand dancewear from other parents- children grow quickly, so parents usually have leotards and suchlike that are now too small for their child. This is a way to save significant amounts on dancewear. Some items, such as wrap-around skirts, you can make yourself (if you’re not such a handy sewer, maybe a relative or even a friend from your studio can make something for you?) This is also a chance to have unique items no one else will be wearing. Many adult beginners at my studio wear beautiful home-made wrap skirts in eye-catching colours and patterns. You may be able to buy second-hand dancewear on online auction sites such as eBay. It’s a long shot, but it may also be worth checking freebie exchange communities such as Freecycle to see if anyone is giving away their old dancewear. Buying new items online in places such as Dance Direct will also save you money over buying in shops. Of course, dancewear shops still have great sales from time to time, and some places offer discounts to full-time students (the one I make the most use of is 15% off Bloch in Covent Garden!). Good-quality dancewear lasts longer than cheap dancewear, and cheap leotards can stretch quickly or can be a bit see-through (not a good look!). You can save money instead by opting for a basic design rather than an intricate one, often saving at least £10. Remember, you can always ask for some special items as birthday or Christmas gifts! Charity shops are also a source of great finds- you would be surprised at what you can find. I have a handful of nice wrap-around cardigans from charity shops and my mum once bought me a brand new Bloch jacket that still had the label on for £75… for £5! Just the other day my grandma found me a Capezio dance bag with the labels still attached for £2.50. It’s certainly worth a look.
These small savings might seem to be a lot of effort for a bit here and a bit there, but these small amounts can really add up to make a difference to the overall cost of training. The bigger savings from scholarships and funding require plenty of research, planning and organisation to get everything ready in good time, but can make a huge difference to a young person’s future career. Remember that you do this because you love to dance (or love someone who loves to dance). The cost of giving up is greater than the financial costs, and with some smart thinking ballet needn’t be a huge financial burden. I hope that these tips have been helpful to you; let me know if they have, and please add your own in the comments below!