I’m very transparent about the fact that Russian style ballet training has given me a great base from which to pursue a career in classical dance. Though it’s definitely not a be-all-and-end-all for everybody (see the post here for how to identify the right ballet training for you), I think it’s worth outlining the reasons Vaganova method at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy worked for me.
Shaping me as a dancer
A key component of Russian style training that transformed the way I dance, is stretching; often referred to, when I was at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, as gymnastics. These sorts of stretches (taken, in part, from rhythmic gymnastics exercises) are designed to lengthen the muscles and encourage flexibility in turned out positions.
The exercises I learnt at the academy push the body to extremes I never knew possible! And yet, by incorporating these stretches into my daily routine, I have found that regularly manipulating the muscles and joints in very extended positions makes classwork (in particular, leg extensions, range of turn out) much easier. In general, I find flexibility allows you to make the most of ballet technique; I have been able to improve my facility tremendously through stretching minimum morning and evening.
Repetition is key
In addition to my everyday technique class, at the Academy, I also found it very helpful to undertake one-to-one classes whenever I could. For me, during student training, rehearsing variations on a one-to-one basis enabled me to analyse any issues I was having with my technique and forced me to step outside my comfort zone. The repetitive nature of technique classes (especially leading up to exam time) build stamina and ingrain the rules of Vaganova technique, however, it’s always useful to fine-tune and iron out any bad habits with a teacher separately.
The way in which the Russian style of classical dance centres around very logical, almost scientific, rules based upon turn out, strength of demi-pointe and upper body port de bras, have a very high success rate when used correctly! My natural physicality has always fought the requirements of classical technique, so a set of rules such as these have proved extremely helpful in controlling my body and making it do what it doesn’t comfortably want to.
And remember, it’s all about artistry!
Acting, meanwhile, would remind me that the real aim of a performance is to communicate with the audience; the movement is a means to convey a story, in whatever sense, to those on the receiving end of your creative expression. The acting teachers at the Academy, endeavored to bring out truthful portrayals of our emotions in our dancing – a very subtle but crucial artistry. To help develop our skills, we had character and acting classes at the Bolshoi as part of our timetable and were also examined in these areas, alongside our formal ballet exams.
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The end product
At the end of my four years trying at the Academy, I felt as though my body had thoroughly been pushed into a form equipped for classical dance; I was aware of how many possibilities had opened up to me in terms of my physical ability. Furthermore, I learnt how to dance from the soul and the importance of expressive dancing – this, I believe, I could only have learnt in Russia and, in particular, at the Bolshoi.
The Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s prestige sees students from all over the world come to study Russian ballet. Around 12% of students are from countries outside of Russia, such as the USA and Japan. My close friends were from Portugal, Texas and Bilbao, indicating how my time at the Bolshoi not only provided me with a very Russian view of ballet, but also broadened my world-wide perception of classical dance.
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