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A ballet dancer or ballerina is a person who practices the art of ballet.
Traditions within ballet gender the titles given to men and women performing as ballet dancers. In French, a male dancer is referred to as a danseur, a female as a danseuse. In Italian, a ballerina is a title used to describe a woman who is a professional ballet dancer, usually holding a principal title within a ballet company; the masculine equivalent to this title is ballerino. In Italian, the common term for a male dancer is danzatore, while a female is referred to as a danzatrice.
In English, a girl who studies ballet is a ballet student. Women who dance in professional classical ballet companies are referred to as ballet dancers. The term ballerina is rarely used and is reserved to denote a well-trained and highly accomplished female classical ballet dancer. It is, therefore, a critical accolade. The term ballerina is not dissimilar from the opera term diva, in that it signifies exceptional talent, accomplishment, and awe-inspiring performance.
Many use the term ballerina incorrectly, often using it to describe any female ballet student or dancer. Ballerina was once a rank given only to the most exceptional female soloists. In opera, the informal equivalent is diva, which means a distinguished singer, but may also denote a prima donna (i.e. a temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience). In similar fashion, and mostly informally, the ballerina would be the prima donna of the dance world.
More or less, depending on the source, the rankings for women, from highest to lowest, used to be:
For men, the ranks were:
Ballet companies continue to rank their dancers in hierarchical fashion, although most have adopted a sex neutral classification system, and very few recognise a single leading dancer above all other company members. In most large companies, there are usually several leading dancers of each sex, titled principal dancer or étoile to reflect their seniority, and more often, their status within the company. The most common rankings (in English) are:
The title of prima ballerina assoluta is rarely used, and it is usually reserved as a mark of respect for an internationally renowned dancer who has had a highly notable career.
Dancers who are identified as a guest artist, are usually those who have achieved a high rank with their home company, and have subsequently been engaged to dance with other ballet companies around the world, normally performing the lead role. They are usually principal dancers or soloists with their home company, but given the title of Guest Artist when performing with another company.
The title or rank of prima ballerina assoluta was originally inspired by the Italian ballet masters of the early Romantic Ballet and was bestowed on a ballerina who was considered to be exceptionally talented, above the standard of other leading ballerinas. The title is very rarely used today and recent uses have typically been symbolic, in recognition of a notable career and as a result, it is commonly viewed as an honour rather than an active rank.
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