Think of an apprenticeship for a dance company as an internship for a corporate or not-for-profit organization. Your job is to learn and experience as much as you can so you develop the skills necessary to be successful in the field. Apprentices are usually affiliated with both a dance school and the professional company. They train at the school and also get the opportunity to perform with the company’s corps de ballet. It’s basically a launching pad for promising dancers to eventually join the company.
The difference between an apprenticeship and a corps de ballet contract is that, while an apprentice sometimes gets paid, a corps de ballet dancer is on salary. On the other side of the spectrum, a trainee program also differs from an apprenticeship. Think of a trainee position as a stepping stone to becoming an apprentice. You’re in the top of your class and get opportunities to perform, but not yet with the main company. Also, many dance companies like Ailey and ABT also have a studio or second company. This is also different from the apprenticeship since second company dancers perform together but rarely with the main company. Additionally, a second company is not affiliated with the dance school.
If you aspire to become an apprentice, realize that the experience will be humbling. You’ll probably go from being the top dancer in your class to suddenly being at the very bottom of the totem pole. But also remember that an apprenticeship is an honor bestowed upon dancers that the artistic director feels have the potential to one day join the company. With hard work, humility, and patience, you can dance your way to prima!