Ballet Society

Ballet Society is a non-profit educational institution founded in 1946 by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. At its founding, Balanchine was the Artistic Director and Kirstein served as the Secretary. The president of Ballet Society is Nancy Lassalle, an original Board member of both the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet, currently Emerita.


The first performance took place on November 20, 1946 at the Central High School of Needle Trades in New York City. In its first season, it opened with The Four Temperaments and the Spellbound Child.[1]

Ballet Society's purpose was to develop an historical and pedagogical foundation for the art of ballet and dance. In its first two decades it received $200,000 in grants to research and expand the reach of ballet in the United States. With these funds Ballet Society published programs and held seminars and workshops with dance scholars, artists and dance teachers. It also commissioned and presented choreography by George Balanchine, Todd Bolender, Merce Cunningham, Lew Christensen, Francisco Moncion, and William Dollar.

School of American Ballet

Balanchine and Kirstein opened the School of American Ballet in 1934 before starting any of the ballet companies they went on to found over the years. Prior to and including 1946, when they began Ballet Society, Balanchine was able to utilize the dancers from his school for his ballets.

New York City Ballet

On April 28, 1948 Orpheus premiered at City Center, prompting Morton Baum, Chairman of the Finance Committee of City Center of Music & Drama, to invite Balanchine and Kirstein to establish a resident company, renamed the New York City Ballet.[2] Once the dance company was given a stable home at New York City Center, Ballet Society continued to operate separately as a non-profit organization in the service of the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet, publishing dance books and developing and funding projects related to the sustenance and encouragement of dance in the United States, while continuing to commission new ballets.

Grants & Sponsorships

In 1949, Ballet Society received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for $2500 for the completion of a book, published as The Classic Ballet: Basic Technique and Terminology, with a text by Muriel Stuart, illustrations by Carlus Dyer, and a foreword by George Balanchine. Lincoln Kirstin is credited with the historical development. This book remains in print today.

In 1958 Ballet Society received two significant grants from the Ford Foundation: a) $25,000 to conduct a survey and evaluate the state of ballet training in America, and b) $150,000 for the purpose of establishing scholarships for students at the School of American Ballet over a three-year period (the San Francisco Ballet School, and five other ballet schools, also received significant funds from Ford Foundation at this time for the same purpose). These grants helped establish a strong foundation and best practices for teaching dance and supporting a merit system that allowed dance schools to recruit the most gifted dancers regardless of financial restrictions.

In 1960 Ballet Society raised funds to implement a new program at the New York City Ballet. This program allowed for 3000 underprivileged children to come to a matinee performance of the ballet, meet the dancers and have exposure to live performance. The program continues to this day at the New York City Ballet.

In 1961 Ballet Society sponsored a Teachers Seminar, based on the findings of the Ford Foundation grant survey, for the purpose of upholding the highest standard of excellence in the quality of teaching ballet across the country. George Balanchine presided over the seminar through lectures and demonstrations. Ballet school directors and teachers came from all over the country to participate.

In 1964 Ballet Society received a $5000 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to conduct lecture-demonstrations in high schools across New York City. Two teams of NYCB dancers, headed by Melissa Hayden and Edward Villella, delivered these lectures.

In 1986 Ballet Society sponsored travel for 21 New York City Ballet dancers to attend the International Ballet Festival of Nervi in Italy, where they performed works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins.

Through 1990-1995, Ballet Society sponsored two different museum exhibitions: Les Ballets 1933 at the National Dance Museum in Saratoga Springs in 1990, and in 1993 an exhibit called Art, Craft, Creativity in the Theatre Through the Costumes of Barbara Karinska. The exhibit was followed up two years later by a book, Costumes by Karinska, with a chronology compiled for Ballet Society by Edward Bigelow, a former dancer of the NYCB who met Karinska in 1947.

In 2014, Ballet Society produced an interactive app on the Apple platform, to foster knowledge of Ballet’s beginnings, history and evolution as told through its relationship with art, history and classicism.


  • 1946:
  • The Four Temperaments (Hindemith/Balanchine/Seligmann)
  • The Spellbound Child (Ravel/ Balanchine/Colette/Bernstein)
  • 1947:
  • Pastorella (Bowles/Christensen/Colt)
  • Renard (Stravinsky/Balanchine/Francés)
  • Divertimento (Haieff/Balanchine)
  • The Minotaur (Carter/Taras/Junyer)
  • Zodiac (Revil/Bolender/Francés)
  • Highland Fling (Bate/Dollar/Ffolkes)
  • The Seasons (Cage/Cunningham/Noguchi)
  • Blackface (Harman/Christensen/Drew)
  • 1948:
  • Orpheus (Stravinsky/Balanchine/Noguchi) Symphony in C (Bizet/Balanchine)


  • Nijinsky, ed. Paul Magriel, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1946
  • Pavlova, ed. Paul Magriel, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1947
  • Isadora Duncan, ed. Paul Magriel, Henry Co., & Holt, New York, 1947
  • Choreography by George Balanchine: A Catalogue of Works, Eakins Press, New York, NY 1983
  • Portrait of Mr. B, Lincoln Kirstein, Ballet Society, New York, NY 1984
  • First a School…Fifty Years of the School of American Ballet, Viking Press, New York, NY 1985
  • George Balanchine: A Reference Guide, Ballet Society, New York, NY, 1987
  • Costumes by Karinska, Harry N. Abrams, New York, NY 1995
  • Tanaquil LeClercq: 1929-2000, edited by Nancy Lassalle and Randall Bourscheidt, Ballet Society, New York, NY 2001
  • Remembering Lincoln, edited by Nancy Reynolds, Eakins Press, New York, NY 2007
  • Lincoln Kirstein: A Bibliography of Published Writings 1922-1996, Eakins Press, New York, NY, 2007


  1. Kirstein, Lincoln (1947). "The Spellbound Child". Ballet Society Program 1946-1947 (1): 11.
  2. Garofola, Lynn; Foner, Eric (1999). Dance for a City: Fifty Years of the New York City Ballet. New York: Columbia University Press.
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