Be True to Your School

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.

grippina Vaganova in "La Esmeralda". St. Petersburg, circa 1910. Source: Wikipedia ©

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.

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.


  • July 26, 2011


    Hi Nanushka,

    Thanks for the lovely feedback & for sharing your experiences. Wishing you best of luck with your training as a teacher! :)

  • July 25, 2011



    I’m 26 years old and I stopped dancing at 20, when I had a bloodclot in my right leg. After all the recovery, I think I can go back now :D
    I never tried Vaganova method, but I think every method is better than RAD. RAD has a good syllabus, and it’s all I’ve done since I started ballet (appart for a bit of Cuban Method at pre-ballet). However, the syllabus doesn’t fully cover difficult moves and combinations/variations at all,and you advance further quite slowly. I realised this when I had to travel due to my parents jobs, and got into other ballet schools. They had “free” methods and I was waaaaaaaay behind every student in my class. Perhaps my steps were cleaner and more precise but I couldn’t do fouettès on pointe at 16 like every girl. My experience doesn’t come from one school, but from many (I had to move from Mexico to Holland and within Holland several times, and then to Spain, and then back to Mexico and then to Barcelona). So maybe if I come back to ballet and if I’m interested in pursuing a career as a teacher, I would try to combine the best of every method in order to prepare dancers for whatever they’re asked to do in the future.
    Congrats on this blog! is amazing!

  • March 5, 2010

    The Royal Danish Ballet

    [...] with a view of increasing technical standards. Introduction of Russian Style technique (Vaganova) and new repertoire to challenge the [...]

  • September 21, 2009

    Dancing Days « The Ballet Bag

    [...] 1916 – Agrippina Vaganova begins teaching at the Imperial Ballet School, training ballet legends in the make such as Galina Ulanova, Natalia Dudinskaya and Maya Plisetskaya. Be True to Your School, May 2009 [link] [...]

  • [...] The arrival of Vera Volkova at the Royal Danish Ballet School, introduced many ideas from the Vaganova school of training, doing away with the set of Bournonville classes, which then disappeared from the school [...]

  • [...] or the struggles of the working class were created. At that time, former dancer turned teacher Agrippina Vaganova “fought tooth and nail” to preserve Marius Petipa’s and the Imperial [...]

  • [...] of the Vaganova machine, Veronika exhibits all the traits that  are so distinctive in Russian dancers: wonderful port de [...]

  • May 31, 2009


    Hi. Thanks for the compliments and we hope we are able to maintain your interest on the blog, since we are hoping to be here on the long run. Indeed, the Vaganova method was developed with many assumptions being placed on the particular body types that the academy had to work with (as it is well known that people were hand picked to attend), but of course this does not mean that its teachings are restricted to those satisfying the physical requirements. Anyone can benefit from russian type training (their dancers still have the most beautiful upper bodies). However, as a parent, one has to pay attention on the schools and teachers who are in charge of your kids’ development. The best aid is information and to maintain good communication with the teacher and the school.

  • May 29, 2009



    I came across your blog via Twitter today. You can count me in as a reader. I love the blog, and of course I absolutely love ballet.
    You raise a great point about Vaganova style that it does assume that dancers have very specific physical attributes. My daughter has started going to ballet (well, really pre-ballet since she is 3.5 years old), and the school she goes to teaches Vaganova style. I observed some older classes for girls who are not aspiring to professional career, and it made me wince a bit when I saw the 180 turnout of feet without the hip turnout. The school’s professional program is great, but I am prepared to change schools if I see that my daughter’s turnout is being forced.