Types of Ballet Methods and Styles Across Dance History

Image Credit: royalballetschool.org.uk

The ballet history has been around for centuries and it has been a long and interesting one. Throughout history, it has molded according to the different cultures of the world that has embraced it.

As ballet continued to be taught worldwide, several ballet methods and styles have been established. Each of it with its stylistic characteristics. But do you know all of the ballet methods that have led up to the ballet as we know today?

Here are the several ballet methods across dance history!

The French School

The French School of ballet, also known as “École Française”, emphasises it’s training on precision, elegance, fluidity, and sobriety.

It all started when ballet spread like wildfire from the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries to the French courts during the time of Louis XIV, in the 17th century. It was in this era where ballet was codified and was restricted to men.

The French history and influence on ballet is very much reflected in the vocabulary of ballet. As such, this point in history was crucial to the development of ballet as an art form.

Rudolf Nureyev, who was then a famed dancer, directed the Paris Opera Ballet and led the French School of Ballet. Under his strong artictic direction, he choreographed and re-worked alternate versions of great classic ballets such as Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Raymonda, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.

As Nureyev played a huge role, he trained and formed a whole new generation of young principals (“Étoiles”) – the Nureyev Babies. These generation of dancers were famous for their elegant and clean technique. One of the many of these dancers includes Manuel Legris, Laurent Hilaire, Kader Belarbi, Isabelle Guerin, and Elisabeth Maurin.

Ever since then, the French School stressed on Nureyev’s idiosyncratic style which were based on all the steps that Nureyev was excellent at. It focused on great speed and quantity of steps. Hence the music was often played slower.

It was as though the Frech School became the Nureyev school!

The French School influence lasted from the 1980s to the 2000s. As the Nureyev Babies retire, its influence started to wane.

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Bournonville Method

The Bournonville method is a ballet technique and training system devised by the Danish ballet master August Bournonville. He was heavily influenced by the French School of ballet and trained under his father, Antoine, as well as other Frech ballet masters.

Much of the traditional French methods were preserved in his teaching and choreography just as it was slowly fading from European ballet. Essentially, what we know today as the Bournonville style is the unfiltered 19th-century technique of the French school of classical dance.

The technique stresses on very basic use of arms which are usually held in preparatoire position It is commonly used for beginning and ending movements.

There is great attention on graceful epaulments. The upper body usually twists towards the working foot which serves to draw attention to the movement.

The eyeline is lowered to exude kindness instead of proud. It also usually follows the working leg.

The position of the feet are low in the cou de pied position, only the toe of the working foot is placed behind the ankle of the standing leg.

As long skirts were worn during this period, Pirouettes were performed with a low leg position as well. It often starts with a low developpe into seconde, then from seconde, for outside turns, and with a low developpe into 4th for inside turns.

One of the most recognisable poses in this style amongst others is taken when in pointe derriere one arm in 5th, the other a la taille (at the waist), with a touch of epaulement.

The main principle when performing with the Bournville method is to execute with natural grace and with harmony between body and music.

As the Bournville method and choreography is known for quick footwork, the dancer should aim to show little to no visible effort. Using the lags as the rhythm and arms as the melody, all the steps should be performed in an understated manner.

Dancers such as Erik Bruhn, Nikolaj Hübbe and Johan Kobborg were trained in the Bournonville method, and the Royal Danish Ballet, which originated in 1748 and was once directed by Bournonville, still contains many Bournonville ballets in its current repertoire.


Vaganova Method

The Vaganova method was developed by the ussian ballerina, Agrippian Vaganova, who was a dancer with the Marinsky Ballet, Vaganova and retired early in her career to pursue teaching. It is a fusion of the romantic style of the French ballet, the Russian character that exemplifies a dramatic soulful quality, and the athletic virtuosity that characterizes the Italian school to reform the old imperial style of ballet teaching.

Through the 30 years vaganova spent teaching ballet and pedagogy, she developed a dance technique and system of teaching instruction that emphasised on precision. One of the most notable stylistic dance qualities portrayed in the Vaganova method include the expressiveness of port de bras which focused on all parts of the arm, having mobile and strong lower backs, and extreme flexibility with an artisitic quality. Dancers who were trained in this method were taught to be strong and clean with an underlying softness.

As for Vaganova’s pedagogical training, she focused on having precision in a teacher’s instruction. For example, when to teach what, the duration to teach a certain moevemnt, and in what amount. In 1948, Vaganova authored a book titiled “The Foundation For Dance” (more commonly known as “Basic Principles of Russian Classical Dance”), which outlined her ideas on ballet technique and pedagogy.

Some of the greatest dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Natalia Makarova, Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, were trained through Vaganova’s pedagogy. Vaganova believed in precision within the teacher’s instruction, and the Vaganova Ballet Academy continues to have high demands for its students.

In 1957, the school was renamed the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recognition of her achievements. Today the Vaganova method is the most common method of teaching ballet in Russia. It is also widely used in Europe and in North America. The Vaganova Ballet Academy continues to be the associate school of the former Imperial Russian Ballet, now known as the Mariinsky Ballet.

In total, the syllabus consists of eight levels up to diploma. Early training focuses on two aspects: epaulement, or the stylized turning of the shoulders and body, the development of total stability and strength in the back.

The training on epaulment instills in the dancer an intuitive anticipation of how best to use every part of his or her body to evoke breathtaking results, right down to the hands and eyes. Stability and strength; in turn, helps the dancer to produce a balanced and harmonious coordination within the body and the continuity of movement.

It is internationally known that the Vaganova method has produced many of world’s best dancers including Anna Pavlova, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the legendary choreographer George Balanchine, and professional dancers in almost every company in the world.

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Cecchetti Method

Formed by the Italian ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti, the Cecchetti method is a strict form of a ballet training system that emphasizes anatomy within the confines of classical ballet technique. It aims to train students to study and internalize the basic principles of dance rather than plainly imitating dance movements. As a result, it produces dance students that are self-reliant and independent.

Qualities of the Cecchetti method include balance, poise, line, strength, elevation, elasticity, musicality, artistry, clarity and purity. In order to develop beautiful and graceful lines, the Cecchetti method encourages the student to think of each movement of the foot, leg, arm, and head as one in relation to the whole body.

The Cecchetti training system traditionally has has seven grades with examinations up to diploma level. This progression helps to ensure that movements are taught based on a planned sequence. Hence new movements are only introduced once previous movements are mastered.

Furthermore, the Cecchetti method is noted for its comprehensive vocabulary of movement to develop and maintain the dancer’s abilities and technique. There are nearly 40 adagios composed by Cecchetti and it’s popularly known 8 port de bras.

All exercises are also executed on both the left and right side. For example, it begins one side in one week and follows with the other side the next week. This practice ensures that each part of the dancer’s body is worked out with a balance.

The guiding principle of the Cecchetti method is its focus on clear lines without being extravagant. It stands firm in emphasizing quality over quantity. As a result, the method places importance on executing an exercise correctly once rather than carelessly repeating it.

However, Cecchetti also taught that it is important for the students to study new steps composed by their teachers after finishing the lesson of the day. The goal is to develop the ability of quick learning in dance students to assimilate new steps and new enchaînements.

Royal Academy of Dance

Established in London in 1920 by Genee, Karsavina, Bedells, E. Espinosa and Richardson, The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is an international dance examination board that is also known as the English style. However, it is also a merging of Italian, French, Danish and Russian methods.

Considered as one of the youngest ballet methods, RAD was simed to further the cause of artistic dancing throughout Great Britain and Commonwealth specifically in classic-academic dancing; and to continuosly improve its teaching method. Currently, this method is also widely spread in Northern America and parts of Asia.

One of the most prominent aspect of RAD teaching method is its emphasis and attention to detail when learning ballet technique. With that in mind, the progression in difficulty between levels is slow because difficult steps are only taught once a maximum level of technique is achieved.

As a result, the primary importance is placed on students executing the steps with improved technique rather than increasing the level of difficulty. For example, basic exercises such as plies and tendus are employed consistently throughout the lower grades in order to progressively improve the turn out of students.

The main principle behind this is that the RAD teaching method believes it would be easier for students to learn harder steps if there is sufficient time spent in achieving optimal technique before introducing newer and harder steps. At the same time, the student is able to exercise basic technique to their full potential while learning harder ones.

Currently. the RAD offers two training programs for students: the Graded Examination Syllabus and the Vocational Graded Syllabus. The Graded Examination includes 10 levels and incorporates classical ballet, free movement and character dance. However, the Vocational Graded Syllabus is comparably more demanding. It is a ballet-focused path designed for older children and young adults who wished to pursue a career in professional dance.

Image Credit: royalballetschool.org.uk

Balanchine Method

The Balanchine method is a more recent ballet style in the history of ballet that was developed by George Balanchine, a graduate of Vaganova Ballet Academy. As Balanchine leaned towards a neoclassical style, the choreography was more focused on the dance rather than on a plot.

It required dancers to utilize more space in less time. As a result, dancers who train in the Balanchine method are characterized by an athletic dance quality with extreme speed, jumps that increased in height, and lines that were lengthened.

Other stylistic aspects include the use of very deep plies, unconventional arms and hands, as well as great attention placed on lines, especially in decale. When in arabesque, the dancer’s hips are opened towards the audience while the sidearm is pressed back. The use of spiraling helps the dancer to create an illusion of a longer and higher arabesque line. In addition, en- dehors pirouettes are often taken from a lunge in fourth position with a straightened back leg (as opposed to a plie) with extended front arm.

This method was initially used at the New York City Ballet and is one of the most widely used methods in the United States. Currently, it is taught at the official school of New York City Ballet, School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, and at many schools of Balanchine’s disciples, such as Miami City Ballet (Ed Villella), Ballet Chicago Studio Company (Daniel Duell), and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington D.C.

Image Credit: dancetabs.com

There you have it! Now that you know all the ballet methods and styles throughout history, comment below on which style are you trained in! We’d love to hear from you.


Grace Rundi

Continuously searching for an artistic voice, spotting muses, and drawing inspirations.

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