Ballet schools and companies around the world employ different teaching methods according to which traits are valued in different areas. You’ll find certain techniques to be more prevalent in certain areas of the world, but the Vaganova method, sometimes known as the Russian method, is internationally taught. It’s renowned for many reasons: the logical nature and progression of movements, the focus on port de bras and its relation to the rest of the body, and the strong, clean lines mixed with delicate, graceful expressiveness. Although it is not the sole method taught at SRB, it is incorporated—along with the Cecchetti and Balanchine methods—into the larger foundation of classical ballet taught to students. The Vaganova method is valued at SRB because it produces strong dancers who have a thorough understanding of technique and the foundations of each movement.
Origins and Characteristics of the Vaganova Method
Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951) was an instructor and former dancer with the Imperial Russian Ballet when she developed the method named for her. She wanted her dancers to increase their awareness of the entire body and understand the science of how each movement connects with the next. Vaganova created the barre system that ballet dancers across the world now use, wherein each step builds upon the next—the legs progressively extend further in the air away from the body, and the upper body progressively bends further in all directions. This regimen has resulted in the muscles warming up gradually, avoiding injuries.
Vaganova believed that any weakness in center work could be corrected at the barre through constant practice. She placed an emphasis on involving the whole body in each movement, from the legs and feet to the torso, arms, shoulders, and head placement. In connection with her idea of progressive training that builds upon itself, Vaganova taught her students the importance of a square torso, where the shoulders and hips form a square that should not be broken by twisting out of position.
The idea of the square torso allows students to develop the necessary strength for mature, balanced carriage of the arms. Vaganova taught her students how a ballet dancer uses the arms not just for mere choreography, but to aid the rest of the body. For example, during a grand jeté, the arms pass through first position and then lift up in time with the full extension of the legs, helping to propel the body into the air. Through this teaching, students of the Vaganova method strengthen their torso and upper back, which in turn balances and aids the rest of their dancing.
Overall, the Vaganova method is a very precise technique where dancers are taught to be highly aware of every part of the body. Vaganova-trained dancers possess a thorough attention to detail; they are sophisticated dancers with unique elegance, cleanliness, and strength.
How the Vaganova Method Is Taught
Vaganova believed that ballet training should culminate in the student being able to perform a grand pas de deux, where a male and female dancer perform an adagio piece together, an individual piece for each, and an allegro piece together. This grand pas de deux encompasses everything from lifts, developpés, leaps, and turns to complex footwork, all in a range of tempos. In order to prepare students to be able to complete all this, Vaganova instructors use the method of building upon a strong technical foundation. No step is learned until the student is ready; this reduces the risk of injury and the development of bad habits. At SRB, this aspect of the Vaganova method is firmly instilled in students.
Additionally, Vaganova instructors, like Agrippina Vaganova herself, teach awareness of the entire body and exactness in movements. Vaganova taught that all ballet stems from the tendu, where the front of the ankle leads forward and the foot massages the floor with first the heel, then the ball, and last the toes come to form a point. This exact idea is highly emphasized at SRB, along with the overall concept of being highly aware of all parts of the body during every movement—and even when holding still. This thorough approach builds dancers’ technique and allows them to develop their individual creativity and interpretations as they progress. The strong foundation that the Vaganova method builds also means that Vaganova-trained dancers are very well prepared to learn other methods and techniques. This gives those dancers who go on to professional careers an edge, as they can easily adapt to a different company’s teaching methods.
The Vaganova Method at Studio R Ballet
At SRB, the Vaganova method is one of the two primary methods taught to students, the other being the Cecchetti method. The strength and awareness it builds is unparalleled, and the avenue it builds for creative expression means that SRB’s students are highly advanced ballet dancers who are strong yet elegant and expressive. The students at SRB are also uniquely prepared for adapting to other methods, such as Balanchine, which is taught to upper-level students. The Vaganova method’s prestigious reputation is deeply instilled within the students at Studio R Ballet as part of their elite ballet training.