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The Art of Ballet: An Overview of Vaganova, Balanchine, Bournonville, Cecchetti, French, & RAD Training Techniques

Robert Fulton - June 15, 2023, 4:23 p.m.

The Art of Ballet: An Overview of Vaganova, Balanchine, Bournonville, Cecchetti, French, & RAD Training Techniques

Ballet, in its numerous forms, exudes a timeless beauty that has captivated audiences for centuries. What many might not realize, however, is that ballet is not one universal language but a collection of methodologies and styles, each with its unique characteristics and demands.  There are many different techniques, the most prevalent being Vaganova, Balanchine, Bournonville, & Cecchetti, each named after a luminary in the ballet world, as well as French, and RAD.  Let's take a closer look at these methodologies and their implications for training ballet dancers.


Vaganova Method

Developed by Agrippina Vaganova, a Russian dancer and teacher, this method combines elements of traditional French style with the athletic virtuosity of Italian technique. It emphasizes precision, expressive arms, fluid movements, and strong, supple backs. The Vaganova method also promotes a holistic approach, encouraging dancers to engage their entire body with each movement and create a harmonious blend of motion.


The main advantage of the Vaganova method lies in its rigorous, systematic approach, which progressively increases in complexity. This careful progression allows dancers to build a solid foundation before moving on to more challenging elements. The primary criticism of this method, however, is its rigidity, which may stifle individual expression and creativity.


Balanchine Method

Created by George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, the Balanchine method, also known as "American style," revolutionized ballet by emphasizing speed, athleticism, and energy. The style requires dancers to demonstrate exceptional flexibility and speed while maintaining a sense of ease and lightness.


The Balanchine method's strength lies in its dynamic nature, fostering athleticism and expressive performances. The technique also encourages individuality, with Balanchine famously declaring, "I don't want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance." However, critics argue that this method's speed and intensity can lead to injuries. Its stylistic uniqueness can also make it more challenging for dancers trained in this style to adapt to other techniques.


Bournonville Method: A ballet training technique developed by Danish ballet dancer August Bournonville. The style emphasizes pirouettes that originate from a low developpé position, along with the visually stunning effect of ballon.  It notoriously has minimalistic ports de bras.


Cecchetti Method

The Cecchetti method, developed by Italian ballet master Enrico Cecchetti, emphasizes the balanced development of the body, with a focus on strength, poise, and fluidity. The Cecchetti technique encourages dancers to understand the mechanics of each movement, fostering a strong anatomical awareness.


The Cecchetti method offers a systematic structure with carefully planned exercises for each day of the week, promoting a balanced skill set. However, the method is often criticized for being overly analytical, potentially hindering the expressiveness and musicality of the dancer.


French Technique: The evolution of French ballet has been significantly influenced by key figures such as Pierre Beauchamp, King, Molière, Jean-Baptiste, and Louis XIV, who established the Académie Royale de Danse (the modern-day Paris Opera Ballet). Beauchamp is credited with the creation of the five foundational foot positions universally utilized in ballet. The technique is recognized for its fluid movements, graceful and clear lines, technical accuracy, and quick footwork.

Royal Academy of Dance Method (RAD): This method is associated with the English ballet school, the Royal Academy of Dance, established in 1920 with the efforts of luminaries like Tamara Karsavina, Adeline Genée, Edouard Espinosa, Phillip J.S. Richardson, Lucia Cormani, and Phyllis Bedells. The English style method, a synthesis of Danish, Russian, French, and Italian techniques, fosters classical ballet. It is instructed at a meticulous, slow tempo, emphasizing precision and grace, alongside free movement and character dance.

Adapting to Different Styles

Regardless of the training method, a versatile dancer can adapt to different styles. This versatility begins with an open mind and an eagerness to learn. By studying different techniques, dancers can broaden their skill sets, improve their adaptability, and expand their artistic range. Cross-training in various methods can also help dancers to prevent injuries by promoting a more balanced use of the body.


Teachers play a crucial role in this process. By exposing their students to different techniques and styles, teachers can prepare them for the varied demands they might encounter in their professional careers.


In conclusion, the Vaganova, Balanchine, Bournonville, RAD, French and Cecchetti methods each offer unique approaches to ballet training, with distinct strengths and weaknesses. By understanding and experiencing these different techniques, dancers can become more versatile, adaptable, and well-rounded artists. After all, at its heart, ballet is a form of artistic expression, and there is no limit to the ways we can express our love for this beautiful art form.