The 10 Best Dance Schools in the World

When looking at some of the world’s premier dancers, from Rudolf Nureyev, to Sylvie Guillem, to the legendary Anna Pavlova, one finds that the rigorous training and professional development afforded by schools dedicated to developing burgeoning dancers served as key stepping stones in their careers. 

This fact is no accident: few things can transform novice dancers into disciplined experts like the resources available to students at the following Dance institutions. 

In fact, Rudolf Nureyev, Sylvie Guillem, and Anna Pavlova are all alumni of the following institutions on this list.

But what each individual dancer needs to best hone their craft is a unique thing. 

As such, dancers must carefully consider the specializations of the dance institutions they seek to study within, the faculty which could become future mentors, the kinds of notable alumni these institutions have produced historically, and the culture of the dance scene within the cities that house these institutions. 

All of these factors are crucial if they are to make the most of their time during advanced study.

The following list breaks down these details and more, highlighting key information dancers might consider when applying to the world’s foremost dance programs. 

Some of these institutions are Bachelor’s degree-granting institutions, while others are training schools for future professional dancers. 

Although some of these institutions specialize in training younger, pre-college students, a variety of short-term classes, summer programs, and professional development courses for older students tend to be offered by these institutions yearly. 

From Moscow to Oklahoma City, this list represents 10 of the best dance schools worldwide.

Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet (St. Petersburg, RU)

Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Vaganova Ballet Academy is considered by many to be the source of modern ballet. This 275-year-old school only allows those judged to be the absolute top dancers in their class to graduate, as each successive year of schooling leads to smaller and smaller class sizes. 

As such, of the 3,000 children who apply to the school at around the age of 10, only 25 will graduate, around the age of 19. However, classes for international students are held annually for students aged 16-20.

Upon graduation, the Mariinsky Ballet company may offer positions to certain graduating students. Others find their way to companies worldwide, such as the Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre.

This school boasts an incredibly accomplished base of alumni, including three of the most influential ballet dancers of all time, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Anna Pavlova.

Paris Opera Ballet School (Paris, FR)

Located in the Nanterre suburb of Paris, France, this school is a component of the Paris Opera, the oldest national dance company globally.

This 300-year-old institution allows students to immerse themselves in one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world through its proximity to the Paris Opera. 

Of all the dancers in the Paris Opera company, around 95% graduated from the Paris Opera Ballet School. 

The Paris Opera Ballet School boasts alumni that have transformed the landscape of ballet: from Sylvie Guillem to a rising star in the Paris Opera, Katherine Higgins

The school currently operates under the directorship of Elisabeth Platel, who won a prestigious Benois de la Danse ballerina award in 1999 and has choreographed for the likes of George Balanchine, John Neumeier, and Rudolf Nureyev.

Royal Ballet School (London, EN)

The Royal Ballet School boasts an incredibly illustrious band of notable alumni: Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and Kevin O’Hare, the current director of The Royal Ballet, just to name a few. 

Located in London, England, this school for 11-19 year old dancers has a tradition of sending its students to some of the most prestigious dance companies across the globe, particularly the Royal Ballet in London and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

The Royal Ballet School assures its students receive rigorous dance training alongside quality academic preparation, as the school also contains art studios, computer labs, a physiotherapy treatment space, and more. 

The Royal Ballet School is the only dance school to have trained 4 of the 13 Prima ballerina assoluta recipients, the highest honor a ballerina can attain: Margot Fonteyn, Eva Evdokimova, Phyllis Spira, and Alessandra Ferri.

Elmhurst Ballet School (Birmingham, EN)

With a close association with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, this school grants its students unique access to the Artistic Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, a position which Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta has filled since 2019. 

As well, Elmhurst Ballet School students can anticipate having the opportunity to work within the Birmingham Hippodrome, one of the highest quality theaters in the UK. 

The school, which trains students aged 11-19, has a state-of-the-art campus with seven dance studios, a 250-seat studio theater, and a theater workshop. 

Robert Parker, the former principal dancer for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, serves as the Artistic Director, granting students mentorship from a leading industry professional. 

Elmhurst alumni represent a diverse group of dancers, such as Dame Merle Park, Melissa Hamilton, Jacqui Chan, and Paul James Rooney.

The Juilliard School (New York, NY)

Juilliard School
Yair Haklai, Juilliard School-Manhattan-New york, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Dance Division at the Juilliard School offers undergraduate and graduate students the chance to hone their skills in a wide range of dance styles: ballet, hip-hop, tap, contemporary African, various different Ballet techniques, and more. 

The program’s director, Alicia Graf Mack, has danced for Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Beyoncé, John Legend, Andre 3000, and Alicia Keys. 

As such, alumni can be found in every facet of the international dance scene. 

From Carla DeSola, a pioneer in Liturgical Dance, to Prima Ballerina at the Batsheva dance company Rina Schenfeld, to Daniel Lewis, a contemporary dancer with a background in Yiddish Theater, Juilliard alumni are everywhere.

Alongside Alicia Graf Mack, many of Juilliard’s dance faculty are practicing industry leaders, such as Val “Ms. Vee” Ho, who has appeared in multiple films and talk shows, Ray Hesselink, a broadway tap dancer, and Deborah Wingert, who has danced for both staged and filmed Shakespeare productions.

Fordham University (New York, NY)

Fordham University
Howchou, Fordham University 01, CC BY-SA 3.0

Located nearby one of the world’s dance epicenters in New York City’s Lincoln Center Area, Fordham University partners with The Ailey School of Dance to give undergraduate students the chance to combine the best of The Ailey School’s tradition of dance prestige with Fordham’s academic excellence through their Ailey/Fordham dance BFA.

Working within the dance school founded by world-famous dancer Alvin Ailey, this degree focuses on granting its students a holistic picture of the world’s dance techniques, with required coursework in diverse dance styles.

Alumni of the Ailey/Fordham school include Danelle Morgan, a Radio City Rockette; Amy McClendon and Jordan McHenry, two Cirque du Soleil dancers; and several Broadway dancers. 

While studying under premiere dance faculty such as Dance Theatre of Harlem alum Melanie Person, students also can familiarize themselves with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, one of the most renowned in the world. 

NYU Tisch School of the Arts (New York, NY)

The BFA in Dance at the Tisch School of the Arts not only boasts a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on both the creative and technical aspects of dance, but also allows students to obtain on-the-ground experience in the kinds of professional settings career dancers operate within on a daily basis.

The Tisch School has a unique curriculum that begins with foundational Dance training and builds its way to students joining the Second Avenue Dance Company in their final year.

Along the way, students undergo summer residencies each summer that offer intensive coursework taught by guest dance companies, performers, and practitioners. 

Guests at the Tisch summer residency in 2022 will include Sofia Nappi, Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE: A Dance Company, and David Dorfman Dance.

As such, this program offers students the chance to begin to develop the network, experience, and portfolio of a career dancer. It is no wonder, then, that 3 recent alumni of Tisch were included in Dance Magazine’s 25 to watch in 2021. 

School of American Ballet (New York, NY)

The School of the American Ballet selects students from the age of 6-18 to attain some of the most prestigious ballet training in the world in association with the New York City Ballet. 

Alongside this, 200 students in that age range also have the opportunity to attend summer classes and complete a five-week intensive training. 

Under the directorship of Jonathan Stafford, former ballet master for the New York City Ballet, the School of the American Ballet houses notable faculty such as 60-year industry veteran Kay Mazzo and former New York City Ballet soloist and founder of The Swan Dreams Project, an organization that seeks to dispel stereotypes about Black women in ballet, Aesha Ash

90% of dancers in the New York City Ballet have graduated from the School of the American Ballet, and notable alumni include dancers such as Paloma Herrera, Mary Ellen Moylan, and Debra Austin. 

Oklahoma City University Ann Lacey School of Dance and Entertainment (Oklahoma City, OK)

This university is a mecca for those pursuing a career at any level of dance production. 

With separate undergraduate and graduate degrees in Dance Performance, Dance Management, American Dance Teaching, and Entertainment Business, this school provides unique opportunities for those who want to contribute to the world of dance. 

The Ann Lacy School was founded by Professor Jo Rowan on the notion that American dance art forms such as tap, jazz, and theater dance should be granted respect in the academic space. 

It was the first university of its kind to teach these dance forms, and as such, it has long been considered one of the world’s best schools for these modes of American dance. 

Jo Rowan, the founder of the program and the American Spirit Dance Company, still teaches at the Ann Lacy School to this day, allowing students to study alongside a pioneer in the field.

The Bolshoi Ballet Academy (Moscow, RU)

Associated with the Bolshoi Ballet, graduates of this program have attained a vast number of People’s Artist of the USSR awards, “prima ballerina assoluta,” and “premier dancer” awards—the highest honors any dancer can attain in Russia. The Bolshoi Ballet Academy trains students aged around 9-19.

Marina Leonova, a People’s Artist of Russia (the highest honor the Russian Federation gives to artists), is the current director of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. 

Recent alumni of the school lead dance troupes throughout the world, such as MacArthur Fellowship recipient Alexei Ratmansky, who also received a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for his work with the American Ballet Theatre. 

The effect the Bolshoi Ballet Academy has on the world of dance and the landscape of international art writ large is so vast that in 2020 the institution was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation for its role in bettering Russo-Japanese relations.