Until the 1930s, American ballet dancers had to rely on touring foreigners for teaching. Heir, cultural impresario, and donor Lincoln Kirstein, who came from a wealthy family of clothing retailers, dreamed of an American ballet school that would allow young dancers to learn from the greatest masters. In 1933, he invited Russian veteran George Balanchine to come to New York and help him start the school as the choreographer. In 1934, students were enrolled, and performances by various offshoots began. But financial struggles and the Second World War postponed any prominent success by the company.
After the war, Kirstein promised to have the best ballet company in America within three years. In 1948 the New York City Ballet was formed out of his school, and it was a triumph. It remains the largest dance company in America, with over 90 performers and a repertoire of 150 works. The associated School of American Ballet enrolls around 350 students from around the world and has become, true to Kirstein’s vision, the gold standard for American ballet instruction.