I think everyone goes into a ballet company hoping to be a principal, but for all of the reasons listed above (money, openings, directors taste/whims, choreographers' choices) that doesn't always happen. My favorite example is Angel Corella who was in the back line of his company in Spain (it seems he was not particularly appreciated by the director) so he came to the US and auditioned for Kevin McKenzie of ABT and we all know what happened going forth from there!
Ballet is not a profession where one puts in their time and is automatically promoted. Look at orchestras; many spend their careers being the last of the 2nd violins. Look at actors; starring in a movie, even winning an Oscar, and then crumbs - like Cuba Gooding, Jr. Promotion/stardom is a combination of talent and luck - being in the right place at the right time with the right director and the right choreographer.
And, yes, some dancers do enjoy doing corps work. Oh, sure, they would be very happy to be promoted, but they have come to accept that that is not going to happen and they revel in any of the soloist or principal roles they may get to do. They do corps work with love and expertise and many decide they would rather be in the corps of a major company than a soloist somewhere else. I won't go on anymore, but let me put forth the exemplary example of Jennifer Alexander who was with ABT before her untimely death in November 2007. Read about her and her professionalism. We need more of that in the ballet world and less "competition babes" who only want to be stars. Either you love to dance or you don't.
Dancing in the corpsHow long?
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