Dear CBT: Choosing a Style of Ballet

Dear CBT,

My daughter, age 15,  was a long-time student of a highly-recognized, mixed-method (mostly Cecchetti) ballet teacher where she received wonderful training for 7 years. We recently moved, however, and placed her in a Vaganova program. Do you have any advice for someone studying Vaganova that would help her decide which way to go in the future?

Also there seems to be much less emphasis in this school on the proper physiology of the movements, the students having to just “do it” whereas in her previous ballet school there was always a how and a why to muscle movement and muscle control for the combinations. For example, she learned how to rotate her upper thighs for turnout, etc.  Here it’s just, “Turn out!”

Thank you.  Love your website, found it by accident.


Devoted Dancer’s Parent

Dear DDP,

In the US, it is common to receive ballet training in a mix of styles. The ultimate goal is to have a versatile, able-bodied dancer with strong technique who can perform any ballet stage choreography. Various technique methods are only a “means to and end” of performing stage choreography, which is a separate concept than academic ballet work. All of the major methods of ballet technique will get the dancer there. Generally, dancers trained in methods that differ from a company they wish to join should have strong enough technique that they can assimilate their technique if and when they are hired. (The exception being New York City Ballet, who often only accepts SAB students.)

The advantage to focusing on one method of training is consistency for the body and reducing confusion for the student. Where one style might ask a dancer to place their foot behind the knee at the toe in a tour piqué en dedans, for example, another technique might demand it be crossed at the heel, placed in front of the knee or placed to the side of the knee. Each technique would call the other incorrect, but it is of little matter in which method a dancer is trained – the properly finished dancer in any method should be able to perform either version regardless of which one she was trained to do.

The caveat to all this is that when changing from one to the other, there are sometimes significant differences in movement style. From Balanchine to Vaganova, for example, your daughter may find that movements are a little bit slower and there is a lot more epaulment with softer, less flowery port de bras work. On the Cecchetti to Vaganova transfer, she will find that she will need to cultivate cleaner, longer lines.

My advise is to give it a year and see if “works” for her. (Does she enjoy the movement style? Is the training high quality?) But don’t worry too much about changing the method. There will be some adjusting to do, but that shouldn’t be anything a your daughter cannot handle. Vaganova is a strong, clean and dynamic method of ballet that will be very useful to your daughter. Many companies prefer it, and many others welcome it.

Regarding your second question, a good teacher will explain and instruct on the hows and the whys of movement. Having a successful professional career is not enough to make a really good teacher however (pedagogical training is also necessary), and it is possible that the school you have chosen is an example of that. Give them some months to display their best teaching methods, but I’d move on if this continues to be an issue.

I hope this helps. Thanks for reading BalletScoop!

Update: If you are interested in understanding more about the various methods of ballet technique, you might enjoy reading my prior posts on French, Vaganova, Cecchetti, Balanchine and other styles.