A ballet master or ballet mistress is a person in a ballet company whose duty is to give a daily company ballet class and rehearse ballets that the dancers will perform. Ballet masters and mistresses are considered part of an “artistic staff” of a ballet company and will usually work very closely with both the director and dancers.
Professional ballet companies often have different types of rehearsals throughout the day. Ranging between rehearsing a single dancer in a variation or solo, to the entire company.
It may the responsibility of a company ballet master or ballet mistress to set or stage ballets as well. They will usually prepare ahead of time and learn a section of choreography with the goal of teaching it to the group of dancers called to the rehearsal.
During rehearsals with a new choreographer and piece, they are often in charge of notating the steps in a notebook as they are demonstrated by the choreographer. Since a choreographer sometimes only available for a couple days or weeks (depending on the size of the piece), it is sometimes left up to the ballet master or mistress to record the step for every count and musical cue.
Ballet masters and mistresses are almost always former professional ballet dancers themselves, though their personal accomplishments and accolades from their performing career vary. One ballet mistress may have been a principal dancer in a large company, while the next only danced for a few years before deciding to teach full-time at an academy and eventually worked up to the position.
It is a very difficult position to obtain in a company because of how few positions there are around the world. A company may have anywhere between 1-10 ballet masters. A small company may only need one or two, while larger companies, such as San Francisco Ballet, will have several.