Most professional dancers start their careers rather young and, depending on where they study, the programme/syllabus they follow varies substantively. Here in England, they will probably be following RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). However there are other different methods/schools, each placing emphasis on different aspects of dance. This might result in a dancer having certain abilities and qualities that are more striking and “pop up” when performing certain roles/choreographies. For instance, lookout for extreme bending of the torso “Ashton style” in those dancers trained at the Royal Ballet School.
Given that we are all for knowing more about our favourite hobby, we will be posting a series of entries on the different schools/methods of ballet. Of course we are not planning to be exhaustive and we should mention that there is more information available from the internet or in educational books.
In this post we will focus on the famous Vaganova method, which serves as the main system of instruction in Russia and is widely used in much of Europe and America. It has generated some of the best dancers in the world, admired for their clean lines and the softness of their movements.
Vaganova (pronounced va-GA-nova) training was originally developed by Agrippina Vaganova through her period of teaching in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Leningrad Choreographic School (which is now the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg).
This method originated from Vaganova’s knowledge of the basic curriculum used by the Imperial Ballet School where she trained, fused with the athleticism characteristic of the Italian school and a dash of romanticism borrowed from French ballet.
The training focuses on the upper body and starts from the basic assumption that movement comes from the core. This emphasis on core stability and strength in the back and arm plasticity enables perfect coordination with fluid arms and precision in allegro work.
Vaganova also focuses on the placement of arms (port-de-bras) whilst in motion, as they can assist the dancer while jumping and turning and enhance the beauty of the movement overall. This is why ballerinas from the big Russian companies like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, will generally have beautiful lines and port-de-bras, while also displaying tremendous ability for bravura dancing (ie. multiple sky high jumps and dizzying spins).
Vaganova’s teaching method can be found in her book “Basic Principles of Classical Ballet”. Its application depends entirely on individual schools/teachers, as there is no parent organisation in charge to regulate the system. It should be mentioned, however, that the method assumes pupils “tick all the boxes” in terms of physical attributes for a career in ballet (given that in St. Petersburg, students were hand-picked for success, with perfect limbs and turnout). In other words, it might not be the most forgiving method for the non-professional aspirant student.