For young dancers with a special love of ballet — we speak with our junior associate teachers

For young dancers with a special love of ballet — We speak with our Junior Associate teachers

Applications are open for young ballet dancers aged eight to 10 to join this year’s Junior Associate Programme and dance with The Royal Ballet School. Based in nine centres across the UK, the Junior Associate Programme complements the students’ current training, while introducing them to the one-of-a-kind teaching offered at the School, alongside other children who have a special love for ballet.

We chatted with teachers Melanie Agar and Amy Giancarlo to find out more about what the programme offers these gifted young students, and what the children love about dancing with The Royal Ballet School. 

Melanie has been involved with the Associate Programme in Leeds since 1991 and has taught Junior and Mid Associates in Leeds, Newcastle, and Manchester. She’s currently teaching the Junior Associates in Manchester. 

Amy is one of the Junior Associate teachers in London who has the pleasure of teaching Year 4 and 5 Junior Associate girls.  

What makes a great Junior Associate? Is it natural talent or aptitude, a special love of ballet, a desire to learn, or a mixture of all three? Or something else? 

Melanie: Junior Associates love dancing, especially ballet. They know they were chosen at an audition, so they relish being in a group with students who have the same passion and desire to learn more about their favourite activity.

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.”

— Martha Graham

Amy: To be accepted into the Junior Associate Programme, one must demonstrate potential in classical ballet. In general, Junior Associates show good musicality, artistry, coordination, line, understanding, and flexibility. However, these things alone do not make for a ‘great’ Junior Associate…  

Being a Junior Associate is a very big commitment. To exemplify, some of my students have to travel far distances to get to London every Saturday – some even have to wake up at 5 am to make it to class on time! Therefore, one cannot underestimate the need for Junior Associates to be self-motivated, diligent and passionate about their training. What’s more, Junior Associates get given ballet homework every week, just like at school. They are expected to do their conditioning and stretching exercises at least four times a week, so it is also important that they are independent, patient and resilient. 

Lastly, every Junior Associate lesson is two hours and fifteen minutes long, so it is important that Junior Associates can concentrate and sustain focus and attention for long periods. They must be willing and able to take on feedback while also being detail-oriented because we are always striving for excellence.  

In fact, one student, Salma, from my Junior Associate Level 3 class can probably better summarise what it means to be a ‘great’ Junior Associate, having recently been inspired, as a class, by Polar Preet….

For young dancers with a special love of ballet — we speak with our junior associate teachers

How does the Junior Associate Programme complement a student’s existing training?

Melanie: It’s always a pleasure to welcome the Junior Associate’s local teacher. They are entrusting The Royal Ballet School to nurture their student and are happy to see that we all have the same goals in mind. Usually, the local teacher appreciates that our programme allows us time to focus on the fundamentals of technique in the ballet class and to see the body conditioning programme at work. They often ask “is there anything you would like me to do to help?” We are all part of the child’s journey; teamwork! On the whole, the children’s existing teachers are pleased to see their pupil in a class with other balletomanes enjoying dancing and developing their technique. 

Amy: On the programme, Junior Associates learn The Royal Ballet School System of Training which is an English style of classical ballet based on the legacy of our founder, Dame Ninette de Valois. Junior Associates also benefit from learning National Work, which helps develop musical, spatial, corps de ballet skills and stagecraft. 

Given that the emphasis of our System of Training is fostering musicality, the joy of dance and the development of the dancer as an artist I am confident that the Junior Associate Programme is a wonderful complement to any and all young dancer’s training. 

What do students love about the programme?

Melanie: Every student has a favourite part of the session. Some love the anatomical side when our friendly skeleton ‘Mr Bones’ puts in an appearance. Others enjoy the national dances with stamps and claps and a chance to dance with a partner or a group. Every student would agree that our pianists have a huge part to play in inspiring the Junior Associates for body conditioning exercises or everyone’s favourite steps from the corner or by giving us music to make even the simple plié exercise feel magical.

Amy: Junior Associates are very much integrated into the community of The Royal Ballet School and many of them are, rightfully, very proud of this. New Junior Associates always seem to settle in quickly, developing a wonderful sense of belonging through their relationships with their peers, teachers and accompanists. What’s more, they love that they can dance with other children who share the same drive and passion as they do. It is not an exaggeration to say that lifelong friendships are formed in Junior Associates! 

What kind of performance or training opportunities are there for students in the programme?

Melanie: All our students get to perform for their parents twice a year. This is a very special day for everyone. They love performing for a live audience. There is also an annual visit from Primary Steps [a Royal Ballet School programme which introduces ballet and creative ballet training to primary school children who might not otherwise have access] so our Junior Associates get a chance to show them what they have been learning and they show us what they have been learning. Not every Junior Associate has been to see a live ballet performance when they join us so our Dance DVD library is quite a revelation to many. An invite to the Royal Opera House to see a Pre-General rehearsal is an awesome experience; it’s like finding Narnia for many of them…a whole new world! Nowadays, with technology, we can bring snippets from ballets into our lessons. My Manchester classes are learning a national dance from Hungary so we watched the Czardas from Swan Lake and the Year 6 students watched an amazing extract of Barishnikov in Le Corsaire to help them learn that pirouettes don’t finish in 5th position! Afterwards, the pianist played the music we had just heard for our next exercise. There’s much more the School offer for them to participate in…keep checking the website!

Amy: Training as a Junior Associate opens up a plethora of performance and further training opportunities. Indeed, many students who are accepted into White Lodge actually come through the Junior Associate Programme. In terms of performance opportunities, in this academic year alone, numerous Junior Associates performed with The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, dancing in Light of Passage, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Some Junior Associates also performed in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Christmas.

What have been some of your personal highlights of being involved with the programme?

Melanie: Being an Associate teacher is a wonderful job. Each year is an adventure where I get to be part of a voyage of exploration alongside the student and their parents to gauge how deep their love for ballet is and which direction the children’s dreams will take them. I have former students who are in ballet companies all over the world as well as in this country: The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ballet Boys, Scottish Ballet and others who have gone on to teach, to be physiotherapists, dance at the West End or to follow other paths. Many eagerly await the email to let them know if they have made it to the next level, Mid Associates. Wherever Junior Associates go, those bright smiling faces at the end of year when they receive their certificates says it all. Being a Junior Associate is fab!

Amy: I feel very privileged to work with such passionate, talented young dancers on a regular basis. It is incredibly rewarding to be part of their dance journey and nothing makes me happier than witnessing their progress – both in the studio and on stage! 

Would your young dancer love the chance to become a Junior Associate? Apply today to secure an audition place