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A ballerina is the lead female dancer of a ballet company. Whether the company performs a classical ballet such as Swan Lake or a contemporary plotless ballet, the ballerina is the female dancer who performs the lead role. In order to become a ballerina, a dancer must begin her dance training at about seven or eight years old. At first, she begins by taking one to two ballet classes a week. As she grows older, she progresses to five or six classes a week.
In her daily dance classes, the aspiring ballerina learns all of the traditional movements in classical ballet. As a fledgling dancer, she learns the five basic positions of the feet as well as simple stretching exercises such as the plie, a movement involving the bending of the legs. As her technique improves, she learns jumps, turns, and static poses like the arabesque, a pose where the dancer stands on one leg, the other leg stretched high behind her in a graceful manner.
As the female dancer approaches 11 or 12 years old, the dance teacher will determine if the child is ready to begin dancing on her toes. Only students who have sufficient strength in their legs and feet are allowed to don pointe, or toe, shoes. The aspiring ballerina begins to learn how to dance on the tips of her toes, aided by special blocked shoes. The goal is to make every movement seem effortless and graceful. As her training continues, she will learn how to dance with a male partner and participate in student performances.
During adolescence, the dancer may choose to audition for a ballet academy affiliated with a prestigious ballet company. Ballet schools associated with professional ballet companies are breeding grounds for companies seeking new dancers. If the dancer is selected to attend the academy, she will have more opportunities to perform in venues where she can be seen by influential people of the ballet world.
The competition is fierce to win a coveted slot in the corps de ballet of a ballet company. The corps de ballet is basically the chorus of a ballet company. These dancers are the performers who dance as a group on stage. An adolescent ballet dancer who shows promise will sometimes be chosen to become a new member of the corps, but not all ballet students will be asked to join the ranks of professional dancers.
Once the aspiring ballerina joins the corps de ballet, she begins to learn the ballets in the company's repertoire. In time, if she is extremely talented, she may become a soloist, a dancer who is given solo roles in a ballet performance. If she proves herself to be a gifted dancer, she may be promoted to principle dancer. When the female dancer is granted the title of principle dancer, she is finally considered a ballerina.