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How Does a Ballet Dancer Become an Étoile?

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The New York Times reports that Karl Paquette, 33, a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet, was promoted to étoile (star) dancer at the company’s New Year’s Eve performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s Nutcracker.

But how did Paquette get to be an étoile?

The Paris Opera Ballet has 17 étoiles, 16 principal dancers and more than 120 regular dancers, according to the company's website. The average age of the dancers is 25 years old and most are trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

The first step to get into the ballet is to pass a competitive entrance exam. Then dancers start out as quadrille dancers, and then move through the ranks of coryphée dancers, sujet dancers, principal dancers (premier danseur) and finally can become étoile dancers. They advance through the hierarchy by excelling during annual competitions, and can skip steps depending on skill. The étoiles are appointed by the opera's director on recommendation from the company director, Brigitte Lefèvre.

Paquette first entered the Paris Opera Ballet School in 1987; joined the Corps de Ballet at age 17 in 1994; became a coryphée in 1996, a sujet in 2000 and a premier danseur a year later. It took eight years for him to become an étoile.