What does it take to make it into the professional world of ballet? For Jonas Malinka-Thompson, it meant a lot of training, which started when he was on the soccer team in kindergarten and his parents noticed that while the other kids were chasing the ball, he was off to the side flailing his arms around.

They enrolled him in dance, starting at the Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy, and now several years later, he is joining the main Ballet West company as a Corps Artist. His journey to a professional ballet career included the Royal Ballet School in London as a teenager, the Ballet West Trainee program in 2020, and Ballet West II in 2021.

“I started as a little buttercup in yellow leotards here after my parents saw that I moved around a lot,” Malinka-Thompson said. “I love ballet and the feeling of working hard in class and rehearsals, pushing myself, the feeling of sweat and breathing hard, and seeing the outcome of that.”

A similar situation happened to Corps Artist Maren Florence, who still remembers dancing Ballet West’s The Nutcracker as a young girl. She started with the Ballet West Academy in 2012, moved into the Trainee Program in 2020, and has now been promoted to the main company after two years with Ballet West II.

“I’ve been watching this company for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to officially be a part of it,” said Florence. “I just love the feeling of working hard and knowing I pushed my body as much as I could. I look forward to continuing that and dancing with the Company every day, which is inspiring and helpful for me as a dancer.”

Getting to the top doesn’t happen overnight, and for others, it’s not about starting ballet at a young age either. The biggest factor to a professional ballet career is all about the right training at a quality ballet school with a history of professional placements.

Currently, 90% of the main company at Ballet West comes from BWII, the company’s pre-preprofessional company, and now nearly 50% of the company members began at the Ballet West Academy and moved up through BWII.

Most successful ballet companies have a professional training school in their organization. When George Balanchine was asked to found a ballet company in the early 1930s, he said no, stating a school was needed first. Consequently, he founded the School of American Ballet, now famously known as SAB, and from there he began training dancers for the New York City Ballet. To this day, almost all NYCB dancers are products of SAB.

Ballet West’s founder, Willam Christensen, envisioned the same principle, beginning at the University of Utah, where he trained students in the first fully-accredited ballet program in the United States. He created a performing group with many of the students, founding the Utah Civic Ballet in 1963, which changed its name to Ballet West in 1968.

Mr. C’s ballet school was reshaped over the years with each consecutive artistic director. As the fifth Artistic Director in Ballet West’s history, Adam Sklute has brought his unique perspective to the school. When he started at Ballet West in 2007, there were only two dancers in the company who were products of the Ballet West Academy.

“I made a conscious decision that we needed to start building dancers from the Academy,” said Sklute. “I worked closely with our Academy directors and faculty to codify our approach to classical ballet, to discern our unique style, and build a ‘principals of technique’ that could help all our students become ready, ideally for Ballet West, but if not, then for any professional ballet company in the world. Early on, we set our sights on specific young kids in the school who showed promise and strong potential, as well as making a very concerted effort to start recruiting older kids from ballet competitions around the world.”

Competitions began noticing that Ballet West was providing not only a top-rate home for students to train, but was building and developing students for moving into the main company and into other companies globally. They in turn began recommending Ballet West Academy as a great place to train.

“We were making a systematic effort not only to build the Utah locals from the ground up, but to augment that with talented kids from around the world who would then join the school and move their way up and that whole process has been successful,” said Sklute.

Sklute knowingly acknowledges that not all students make it to the top.

“It’s hard to become a professional. Not everyone makes it, but I still encourage them to give it their all,” said Sklute. “The joy and fulfillment can come from the passion of striving. One of the things that I’ve always said in mentoring sessions is that there is a big difference between disappointment and regret, and we want to live our lives with no regret. So, we give our all to everything we try to do, then we cannot regret having tried it.”

“I can’t promise there won’t be disappointments,” he continued. “We have disappointments in everything, but it’s all about giving 100% and committing yourself. Whether it works out for the company or not, we will make it the best and most fulfilling experience it can be for them and if they want a professional career, we will work hard to help students achieve that goal.”

Newly-named Corps Artist Stella Birkinshaw, who began with the Ballet West Academy in 2011 and was later accepted into the Trainee program, is one of the success stories.

“I have been dancing here for so long, looking up to Company and hoping that I would get to dance with them,” said Birkinshaw. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up because you never know, but it’s just so exciting for my parents to watch me grow up and finally get to dance where I’ve been wanting to dance my whole life.”