A principal may be male or female. The position is similar to that of soloist; however, principals regularly perform not only solos, but also pas de deux. Principal dancers can be hired into a dance company or can also be a company dancer that is a corps de ballet dancer that gets promoted from within the company. That process can take multiple performance seasons or even years to achieve based on skill level and company interest. It is a coveted position in the company and the most prominent position a dancer can receive. The term is used mostly in ballet but can be used in other forms as well, such as modern dance. They are usually the star of the ballet. The term senior principal dancer is sometimes used as well.
The Italian derived term prima ballerina (female dancers) (primo ballerino for male dancers) or the French derived termpremier danseur (male dancers) have been used to denote similar levels of prominence in non Anglo-Saxon companies. In the Paris Opera Ballet, principal dancers receive the title of Danseur Étoile.
The traditional dance company hierarchy is designed as follows:
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