Let’s Hear It for the Corps: 5 Reasons to Love the Corps de Ballet

October 7, 2022

Few things seem more empowering for a ballerina than being promoted to principal, perfecting those iconic 32 fouettés, or tackling a lead role, like Giselle. However, there’s something uniquely fulfilling about being a corps de ballet dancer. While the role is sometimes undervalued because of the collective nature of the work, there’s no denying that these dancers make up the backbone of every company.

Here are five reasons why we love the corps.

1. Tradition.

For centuries, the corps de ballet has been vital to classical productions. Ballets such as Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Giselle would not be the spectacles they are without soldier-straight lines of women bourrée-ing across the stage. “A lot of tradition is passed down through the dancers, and it all circles around the steps and the choreography that we do and the meaning behind it,” says American Ballet Theatre corps member Lauren Bonfiglio. She adds that she tries to pass on her love for the corps de ballet to younger, incoming dancers, since that is where they will learn about company life and the very structure of classical ballets.

Two lines of corps de ballet dancers are shown performing Swan Lake onstage in swan costumes of short white tutus, feathered headpieces and pink tights and pointe shoes. The dancers do temps levé on their left leg in first arabesque, with the front line facing the wings on stage left and the back line facing the wings on stage right.
From left: American Ballet Theatre dancers Lauren Bonfiglio, Zimmi Coker and Betsy McBride in Swan Lake. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy ABT.

2. Storytelling.

The corps does more than add choreographic patterns and carry out tradition; these dancers have a central role in storytelling. “It’s empowering to know that we set the scene and are the backbone of these ballets,” says Philadelphia Ballet demi-soloist Jacqueline Callahan, who spent four years in the corps before being promoted last season and often alternates between featured and ensemble roles. “The story would not be the same without every one of us.”

Bonfiglio adds that the corps de ballet often acts as a shadow of the lead characters and is useful in setting the time period and mood of each scene—adding nuance to the story that one or two soloists could not achieve on their own.

Jacqueline Callahan dances in the corps de ballet during a performance onstage. She wears a peach tutu and holds a large, leafy garland over her head as she arches her upper body over to her right. Other dancers make similar poses behind her, forming a circle, as soloists dance in the middle.
Jacqueline Callahan in Le Corsaire. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, courtesy Philadelphia Ballet.

3. Friendship

Perfecting corps work takes an immense amount of shared time and cooperation. Long-lasting friendships form not only from working in close proximity, but from the deep respect dancers have for each other and the art form. “There’s a camaraderie in the corps that is hard to put into words,” says Bonfiglio. “You have to have the feeling that we’re all in it together and that we’re all going to get through it no matter how challenging it is.” Callahan agrees. “Having people who you can rely on who know exactly what you’re stressed or anxious or excited about is so crucial to helping you feel fulfilled and happy.”

Bonfiglio adds that getting ready together in the dressing room is a special time to bond. “Before a show, we’re laughing, giving merde gifts. When someone gets an opportunity, we are all very supportive.”

A group of female corps de ballet dancers pose facing in to one another during a rehearsal in a brightly lit studio. The ones closest to the center stand in tendu derriere, the next line in in tendu derriere in plié, and the furthest group is on their knee. They all wear long Romantic tutus, leotards and pointe shoes.
Members of the National Ballet of Canada in rehearsal. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy of NBoC.

4. Growth.

A dancer doesn’t need to be cast in a solo to stand out or to continue growing as an artist—each performance is an opportunity to improve. Continually honing one’s own technique is vital for the betterment of the corps de ballet—and the growth of the entire company. “You’re only going to be as strong as your weakest corps member,” says Callahan. Bonfiglio agrees. “You have to give your technique as much attention, nuance and care as if you were dancing alone onstage. Then, you come in to work and feel fulfilled and not like you’re missing out on an opportunity.”

Many dancers also cite the experience of being part of something larger than themselves. “When you can work on yourself as well as something bigger, the collective experience of it is quite lovely,” says Selene Guerrero-Trujillo, who joined the National Ballet of Canada’s corps de ballet in 2007 and has just started her first season as a second soloist. 

Selen Guerrero-Trujillo stands in profile with her right foot in tendu devant and her arms in demi-second, and leans her upper body back, looking over her right shoulder towards the front of the studio. She wears a mint green leotard, a long white tutu, beige tights and pink pointe shoes.
Selene Guerrero-Trujillo. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy of NBoC.

5. Empowerment.

Dancing within a corps de ballet can be a uniquely empowering experience. Callahan remembers a particularly special performance of Swan Lake where the assistant artistic director arranged for each of the corps members to be given a single red rose onstage during bows: “We all felt extra-cheesy about it and proud. I still have that rose.” Even the rudimentary act of breathing and moving together as one can be exhilarating—using peripheral vision, sensing and predicting how others nearby will move. “No one person will have more energy than a collective group,” says Guerrero-Trujillo. That group strength is what makes the corps de ballet so powerful and allows it to have such a meaningful impact on the audience.

“If I look at everything I have done, how much work it requires and how much I got to dance, I don’t think [being in the corps] should be devalued in any way,” says Guerrero-Trujillo. Bonfiglio agrees: “Even when I’m just standing on the side and hearing the music, I’m like, ‘I’m up here with these gorgeous women and our part is integral to the ballet.’ It matters that I’m here.”