Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Isn’t ballet just ballet? Does it matter what style of ballet I train under? Is there a best one out of them all?
Most people don’t realize that the type of ballet training you undergo shapes your muscles and your artistry differently. A French dancer carries their arms differently from a Russian dancer, and a Russian dancer interprets a certain step differently from an English dancer. If you watch class videos of these different schools, you’ll notice the differences in their lines and styles, like the turn of the head, placement of the shoulders, usage of the arms and more.
Each school of technique comes with its own history, cultural nuances, physical requirements, stylistic aesthetics and dance theories. Here is a quick rundown on the major schools of technique in classical ballet:
French Method The first ballet institution in the world (Académie Royale de Danse) was established in France by Louis XIV in 1661, and there ballet vocabulary was first codified, which explains why our ballet terminology is in French. He then founded the School of Dance in 1713, which exists till today, known as the Paris Opera Ballet School, where majority of the Paris Opera Ballet dancers graduate from. The French method is best known for its impeccably precise, quick footwork and elegant, graceful, classical lines.
Cecchetti Method (Italian) Developed by Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928), the method emphasises the central alignment of the body, the “aplomb”. It is a strict training system, with exercises planned for each day of the week to master fundamental principles, and dancers are taught to understand the science and anatomy of ballet technique. Precise footwork and elevation in jumps (”ballon”) are the hallmarks of this method.
Vaganova Method (Russian)
Agrippina Vaganova's methodology has remained one of the strongest and most influential pedagogies in the world, recognised for its high level of technique and artistry. She retired from her performing career with the Maryinsky Theatre in 1916 to teach at the Leningrad Choreographic School, now known as the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Dissatisfied with her technique and the old system of training, she studied the science of ballet extensively, based on the existing French, Italian and Russian techniques of her time. The distinctive features of her training emerged as she developed and systemised her method as a means of training dancers effectively. At the heart of her teaching is the mastery of classical form of the body, and the harmony of movement. Vaganova dancers are characterised most by their clean, virtuosic technique, the suppleness of their upper bodies, and the melodiousness of their movements.
Bournonville Method (Danish) August Bournonville (1805-1879) trained with his father and other French ballet masters, who left an indelible impact on Bournonville and his method. He designed 6 sets of ballet classes, one for every day of the week, and every student and professional dancer would dance the exact same sets throughout their training and career. The method is characterised by its lively and complex footwork but coupled with graceful, soft lines in the arms and upper body. Bournonville himself was also a successful choreographer at the Royal Danish Ballet, where his ballets and classes are still performed till this day.
Balanchine Method (American) Named after George Balanchine, this neoclassical method changed the world of American ballet, being popularised by the ballets of Balanchine himself. Hailing from Russia, he took basic elements from his pre-Vaganova Russian training and modified it to create a new aesthetic and style. The Balanchine dancer is highly recognisable by their speed, athleticism, unconventional arms, hands and lines.
Royal Academy of Dance (English)
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is a ballet examination board and organisation, founded in London in 1920. There are 10 graded levels, and an additional Vocational Graded Syllabus targetted towards dancers who are able to undertake a more serious and in-depth study of ballet. Each grade consists of specific sets of exercises, repeated till the students take the examination and undergo their grading.
So does it matter which method you train under? Absolutely yes! Finding the right methodology is just as important as finding a good school and instructor. Each methodology has its own merits, and is technically challenging in its own right. A good question to ask yourself is not which is the best one of them all, but which is the one that works best for you and your body? There are certain instructions and terminology in a particular method that will not work in another, but a good, solid classical foundation is always recognisable. Explore with an open mind, get the most out of every class and then decide what works best for your body!
Some class videos to pique your interest!
Paris Opera Ballet School: https://youtu.be/tw3vtCGLhXQ
Bolshoi Ballet Academy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WqLWlrzbqc
Vaganova Ballet Academy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcUsgWexgnM