Russian Classical Ballet Academy

Introductory Construction of Lesson

The study of any pas in classical ballet is approached gradually from its rough, schematic form to the expressive dance.

The same gradation exists also in the mastering of the whole art of the dance, from its first steps to the finished dance on the stage.

The lesson does not unfold immediately as a whole but develops through exercises at the barre and in the centre to adagio and allegro.

Children who begin to study at the start do exercises at the barre and in the centre only in dry form, without any variations.

Then simple combinations at the barre are brought in and repeated in the centre.

Basic poses are studied. Further, easy adagio is added, without complicated combinations, so that it serves only to acquire stability.

Complexity is brought in by combinations of movements, into which we introduce work with the arms.

In this manner we gradually come to the combined, complicated adagio. All movements which I describe below in their most elementary form are done on half-toe.

Finally, jumps are brought into the combinations of adagio, which lead the student to ultimate perfection.

In adagio the student masters the basic poses, turns of the body and the head.

Adagio begins with the easiest movements. With time, it gets more and more complicated and varied. In the last grades, difficulties are introduced one after another. Pupils must be well prepared in the preceding grades to perform these complicated combinations - they must master the firmness of the body and its stability - so that when they meet still greater difficulties they do not lose their self-control.

A complicated adagio develops agility and mobility of the body.

When, later in allegro, we face big jumps, we will not have to waste time on mastery of the body.

I want to dwell on allegro and stress its particular importance.

Allegro is the foundation of the science of the dance, its intricacy and the bond of future perfection. The dance as a whole is built on allegro.

I do not consider adagio sufficiently revealing.

The dancer is assisted here by the support of her partner, by the dramatic or lyric situation, etc. It is true that a number of difficulties, even virtuosities, are now introduced into adagio, but they depend to a great extent on the skill of the partner. But to come out on the stage and make an impression in a variation is something else: here is where the subtleties and finish of your dance will be shown.

And not only variations, but the majority of dances, both solo and group, are built on allegro; all valses, all codas are allegro. It is vital.

And if we look back, we see that until now everything was just a preparation for the dance.

Only when we reach allegro do we begin to study the dance. And this is where the whole wisdom of classical dancing is revealed.

In a burst of joy children dance and jump, but their dances and jumps are only instinctive manifestations of joy.

In order to elevate these manifestations to the heights of an art, of a style, we must give it a definite form, and this process begins with the study of allegro.

When the legs of the student are correctly placed, when they have acquired a turn-out, when the ball of the foot has been developed and strengthened, when the foot has gained elasticity and the muscles have toughened - then may we approach the study of allegro.

We begin with jumps which are done by a rebound of both feet off the floor, changement de pieds and échappé.

To make them easier they are done in the beginning at the barre, facing it and holding on with both hands.

The next jump to be done is assemblé, rather complicated in structure. This sequence has deep and important reasons.

Assemblé forces the dancer to employ all muscles from the very start.

It is not easy for the beginner to master it. Every moment of the movement has to be controlled in performing this pas. This eliminates every possibility of muscular looseness.

The student who learns to do assemblé properly not only masters this step but also acquires a foundation for the performance of other allegro steps.

They will appear much easier to the student, but in spite of it she will not be tempted to do them loosely. The correct setting of the body, the full control of it, once mastered from the first pas, becomes a habit.

It would be infinitely easier to begin to teach balancé, for example. But how can we instill in the student the correct manner of holding the body, or controlling the muscles? Because of the easiness of this step, the legs loosen involuntarily, and the student does not learn to turn-out as in assemblé. The difficulties found in assemblé lead directly to our goal.

After assemblé we may pass over to glissade, jet, pas de basque, balance. The latter, I repeat, should not be introduced until the muscles are fully developed in the basic jumps, and the jump is given its proper foundation.

Having learned how to do jeté we pass over to jumps on one foot, with the other foot remaining sur le cou-de-pied after the jump, and to sissonne ouverte to various sides. At the same time we may study pas de bounce for, although this step is done without leaving the floor, it requires very steadily placed feet. At this period of development of the student we may begin to give her simple dances.

In the highest grades we study the most difficult sustained jumps and leaps, for example saut de basque. The most difficult of them, the cabriole, completes the study of allegro.

I dwell longer on allegro because it is the foundation on which the dance as a whole is based.

In the higher grades, when it becomes necessary to make the lessons more and more complicated, all steps may be done en tournant. Beginning with simple battement tendu and ending with the most intricate adagio and allegro steps, everything is done en tournant, affording the developed and strong muscles harder work.

I cannot give a rigid plan for the construction of lessons. This is the realm where the decisive part is played by the experience and sensibility of the teacher. It requires absolute individualization.

This is also true of the work of dancers: their daily exercises and preparation for performances. We must approach exercises as we approach the treatment of an illness. We get orders from a doctor, but the individual knows best how the orders should be carried out.

Professional ailments of the legs are frequent among dancers; they must vary the order of exercises so as to bring the affected spot into working condition with the least discomfort.

Here I think it necessary to say that I fully subscribe to the opinion prevalent among many dancers about the usefulness of work during the summer heat. I urge my students not to suspend their daily exercises for the summer. Great improvement can be made during the summer months because our system is ready for work. One does not have to lose time in warming up, the legs are warm, more susceptible, and one can get more benefit from every effort.

From the first year of study and until the end of the career, the daily exercises of the student and dancer consist of the same steps. True, al the end of the first year the student is not yet doing all the exercises, but even the beginner goes through the movements which will later form part of the full exercises of the dancer.

With the exception of the first year, during which the steps come in a different order, the following succession of exercises should be adhered to. The exercises begin with plié in five positions.

It is not an accident or a silly tradition that we work through pliés in the order of positions, i.e., beginning with the 1st position. It is easier to do plié in the 2nd position, if you do it carelessly. But it is easier to teach a correct plié in the 1st position.

When you stand in the 1st position your balance is less firm. You have to make a certain effort to keep to the vertical axis around which the balance of the dancer is built. This forces control of the muscles, not to project the buttocks when squatting. The whole body is better concentrated, the position is correct; there is a foundation for any plié.

All this is much more difficult to achieve in the 2nd position. It is easy to get the students used to loosened muscles, while we are striving toward a composed body at the straightening of the legs for an elementary demi-plié.

After plié come battements tendus. The purpose of battements tendus is to produce, from the very lowest grades, a dependable and strong turn-out, so that later, during jumps, the feet will form themselves into a precise, correct 5th position.

It would be too late to offer suggestions and corrections during the study of jumps. The teacher should demand from the very beginning that the feet form the 5th position accurately and solidly. Only then will the correct 5th position become part and parcel of the dancer.

After battements tendus come ronds de jambe par terre, battements fondus, battements frappés, ronds de jambe en l’air, petits battements, développés, grands battements jetés.

All these steps may be combined and elaborated depending on the class, the approach of the teacher, and the method he employs to develop the ligaments, muscles and joints. I only want to point out that in the lower grades the pupil's time should not be taken up with a variety of combinations.

There is nothing bad about the exercises being tedious in their monotony, although this monotony can be broken by doing the movements in different time, four-four and two-four, so that the students do not do them mechanically but follow the music.

In these classes a foundation is laid for the development of the muscles, the elasticity of the ligaments; a basis is instilled for the elementary movements. All this is accomplished by systematic repetitions of the same movement a great number of times in succession. For example, it is better to do one step eight times in succession than two or four combinations of steps for eight bars. Few, scattered movements will not achieve the aim. The teacher must be absolutely certain that the student has mastered the movement, that it becomes part of her and that it will be done correctly in any combination, before he may complicate the lesson without harm to the student.

If this is not done, the teacher will get the student to understand the movement, but her legs will remain loose, and not a single step will be mastered to the finish.

In a word, if we force on the pupils too much posing instead of technical work on the movements, their development will progress very slowly.

In the intermediate grades combinations are allowed, but they should be gone into very carefully. It should be remembered that these intermediate grades must form the great power which the dancer needs, and which allows her, in the higher grades, to concentrate all her attention on the development of the dance art.

Barre exercises in the higher grades seem to be short in time, but this is an erroneous impression. The same exercises are done every day in the higher grades as in the lower grades. But because of a developed technique they are done in fast tempo and they take, therefore, less time. But they still give the muscles the necessary elasticity.

The exercises in the centre consist of the same steps as at the barre; adagio and allegro being added toward the end.

A.Vaganova