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The appropriateness of Vaganova training in the US

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The above is a link to a paper posted on a site that is part of University of FL. It is an adobe document of about 20 pages. There is a bibliography but no author. Has anyone seen/read this? Comments?


The title of the artible/paper is: "When the Shoe Doesn't Fit:The Inappropriateness of Vaganova Technique in American Dance Academies and the Attributes Needed to Practice Vaganova Safely"

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The central theme of this paper seems to be that, a lack of sufficient faculty, improperly prepared students and substandard facilities is the justification for declaring Vaganova training harmful. Wouldn't that criteria apply to all ballet training :D


To assume that creating a mish-mash of several, sometimes conflicting methodologies would circumvent these problems is ridiculous (not to mention that the 'author' fails to give any evidence to back up that hypothesis...)


I'm willing to wager that the hapless 'author' is hoping that the person grading this paper has only rudimentary knowledge of ballet B)

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Yes, I happened upon this paper just last week on the Internet. I agree with everything Cabriole has said. I passed it off as an amateur writing a paper that was not based upon any professional, first hand knowledge, although it does have an impressive bibliography. It is a fine example reinforcing idea that the training of ballet dancers, in any method must be left to the professionals who are trained to teach said methods.


Only one uneducated in ballet and the various training ideologies could accept this paper as fact. :)

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I found it last week, too. I thought it was overtitled, and probably written by someone without a lot of experience in ballet as a whole. It did, however, say to me that somebody looked like they'd learned something about professional standards of ballet education, no matter what method is being taught.

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I agree with the other opinions expressed here, especially Cabriole's. Much of what the author states applies to all ballet when improperly taught, not just Vaganova. S/he has a point and is clearly educated about the body, but the beginning is abominably written, including at least one factual error, a misspelling of "Diaghilev," and a repetition of a phrase within the same sentence, not to mention more than one misuse of the word "syllabi." Who thought this was suitable to publish on the internet?


Also agree about the ridiculous "solution" suggested at the end. Wasn't RAD intended to be a combination of the best of all methods at its inception? People have been talking about that sort of thing for years, but I don't think it would really work. It would just end up as another method.

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Who thought this was suitable to publish on the internet?

More than likely, someone in Gainesville, FL. Note where the paper came from: The Network Writing Environment of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Florida. From a description of the NWE, this paper could easily be a final exam or a writing project of the course or program. I hope it's not a final! :shrug:

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It's easy to bash the paper. But no one has addressed the central tenet of the paper --- that the Vaganova Academy undertakes training of only 2% of dancers who audition and graduates only 1% of them.


To the extent that the paper's assertions about the regimen at the Vaganova Academy are true --- that it is highly selective, that certain body positions are required without compromise, etc. --- then I would have to agree, to do the same thing to an un-selected group of students would be damaging. I doubt that very many American ballet schools are that selective, especially with the boys.


The paper did NOT address the possibility that the syllabus may have been modified for use in America with less selective group of dancers. It did not address the possibility that there may be a lot of value in it for "the rest of us", if approached properly. It did not address the fact that probably just about anybody can master graceful whole-body coordination, regardless of the degree of turnout involved.


Finally, while random "combinations" of existing training methods seems like a cheap way out, the idea that dance training should get the dancer in touch with his/her own body and its peculiarities is sound.

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Finally, while random "combinations" of existing training methods seems like a cheap way out, the idea that dance training should get the dancer in touch with his/her own body and its peculiarities is sound.

Bob, all teachers do that unconsciously, but few realize that sitting down and planning what to teach at what time and how to teach it is something that they hold post-doctoral colloquia about. To conclude a mix of methods is a good idea, but a rather glib and facile one. Boston needs more building space? Simple. Fill in the harbor.

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Having studied at Vaganova Academy for a three year period, I do have to question the percentages that have been mentioned. That would leave only 2-3 students per class who actually finish the course of study and that definitely is not the case! Also it should be mentioned that there is also a drop out rate by those who choose not to continue in their pursuit of a career as a professional dancer (yes, that was even the case during Communism). I personally watched graduating classes of at least 40 Russian students, two classes of males and two classes of females with perhaps an additional of 5 foreign students who had completed anywhere from 6 to 3 years of study.


Although I do understand your very legitimate question of the selection process and how it can be implemented into Western culture, it has been successfully accomplished in many European State Schools, such as Stuttgart. Are you questioning the fall out rate of such illustrious schools that are also selective but may or may not be teaching Vaganova program such as Royal Ballet, Australian Ballet, POB, SAB, PNB, WBS, the Rock, Boston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, MCB? I believe it is the nature of ballet. As far as I know auditions are required to enter all of the above mentioned schools. What are they auditioning for? When I taught at most of the above mentioned schools (please note I said most, not all) I was told the children in my classes were selected!


To the extent that the paper's assertions about the regimen at the Vaganova Academy are true --- that it is highly selective, that certain body positions are required without compromise, etc. --- then I would have to agree, to do the same thing to an un-selected group of students would be damaging. I doubt that very many American ballet schools are that selective, especially with the boys.



I have been very fortunate to have spent an extensive period of time in most of the "great European State schools" (I repeat I have never been to POB) observing, taking and teaching classes and I can say that for the most part, the demands placed upon the students emotionally and physically are basically the same every where. Perhaps Vaganova system is the most vulnerable because it is a school that was published in a book. They also have been most open about what they do and how they do it. The Russians are very proud (rightfully so) of their accomplishment in the training of ballet dancers and all that has been contributed to the world in the Arts. Their system of education in Arts is not really that different from most European nations. What is different, is the methodology.


Basically citibob, the professional training of ballet is not and never will be for everyone. There will never be a perfect world were everyone who wants to dance, may dance. All that a professional level school can provide is a place to study for those who are found to be suited for the program, physically and emotionally. All professional level schools have fall out and until those statistics are analysed I will continue to find this paper amateurish in its approach to the subject matter. :shrug:

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Thanks, vrsfanatic, that is some interesting perspective. It is especially interesting to know that basically all the European academies work that way. It makes me believe that when I see a European dancer who claims to have trained under the Vaganova Method, they probably used something that was pretty true to the "gold standard" in Russia.


I was not questioning the selectivity of the school or claiming they change what they are doing. I was simply saying that I thought the paper made a valid point --- that if you're NOT that selective, then you are asking for trouble simply applying the "Vaganova Method" as it is used at the Kirov. Clearly the paper was not talking about the highly selective schools --- both in the USA and in Europe --- that you mentioned.


However, there ARE people in the USA, even some who have studied at the Vaganova Academy and hold certifications, who claim the method works for anyone. Based on what everyone else has said --- including teachers of Vaganova method and otherwise --- it seems that this claim could be erroneous and dangerous to the student, unless they have somehow modified the Vaganova syllabus (which they claim not to have done). What do you think about this?


I do have to question the percentages that have been mentioned. That would leave only 2-3 students per class who actually finish the course of study and that definitely is not the case!


I think my percentages were just misunderstood.

3000 auditionees / 60 in the incoming class = 2%

3000 auditionees / 30 in the graduating class = 1%


These percentages seem to be lower than the ones you report, but in the ballpark.


Basically citibob, the professional training of ballet is not and never will be for everyone.


Probably true. But that leaves open the question of who it can and cannot be for. Simply because Academy A using Method A only works for a certain group of people does not necessarily prove that other methods (maybe even methods that have not been invented) might not work to train a different group of people. The fact that Method A does not work for these people is not a strike against it for the people it DOES train, either. (Aack. Too many negatives).


It is also possible that many schools decline to train dancers who would not necessarily have problems with their training, but would not fit well in the companies for which they are aiming. I have often heard dance students be told they will "never" dance professionally because they are too tall or too short. Seeing the kinds of partnering involved in the Russian classics (for example), I would have to say they have a point. But only so far as the repertory one is planning on dancing involves the Russian classics. The same could probably be said about the Balanchine repertoire as well. There are plenty of companies out there with different repertoire, but the companies that do the Swan Lakes are the ones that get the big audiences and the big bucks.


I will give two cases in point.


1. A dancer I know who spent many years dancing for one of America's top ballet companies. Apparently, he survived the training just fine. But he is definitely too short, and they only gave him limited roles. Basically, a lot of "flying armchairs", as he puts it. (If there had been more men in general, they probably wouldn't have hired him at all; he is actually shorter than a teacher I know who never really did dance professionall because he was too short.) However, outside the paradigm of the classics, this dancer has a LOT more possibilities. He is now dancing (for the second time) with one of our lead ballerinas --- who is also very talented and "too short". What those two do together on stage is simply inspiring.


2. Myself. I know for sure I would have not survived the mental aspects of the ballet training described. If nothing else, it was too repetetive and not analytical enough at a young enough age. I am almost certain I would not have survived the physical requirements of the training either. And yet, I have done a lot with what I have, I have gotten a lot more out of my body than I ever imagined possible, and I have professional opportunities at this point that I am happy with.


My training has been very different from that of the European dancers I see, but also more appropritate for my psyche and physique. And when I see what they do, I know I could never train that way, and there are some things they can do that I will never achieve. Dance is a process of pushing beyond one's boundaries, but also one of recognizing one's "true" boundaries once they are found. I'm not going to feel sorry for myself about this, just as I'm not about to feel sorry for myself that I'm not rich like Bill Gates (probably no one on this board is feeling sorry for that reason). I was born as who I am, and if the choice is between not dancing at all and dancing the way I have done it, I am grateful for the latter.


(Incidentally, my earlier training was more "standard", and I concluded after getting injured that I did not have the right physique for ballet and quit. Responsible Vaganova teachers probably would not have let me start. Physical therapy did very little to fix the inbalances that had been set up in my muscular-neverous system; it seemed I might be minorly "crippled" for life. It was only later that I discovered someone with a different approach that I found I could dance without risking injury. Happily, the training also did what physical therapy never did --- it re-balanced my muscles appropriately and put an end to the problems I had experienced. I don't know how long I'll dance for, but at least now I know I'll probably be riding my beloved bicycle right to the grave. It is for this reason that I very much believe in the necessity to train in a way that is appropriate for your body.)




It seems maybe the take-home message here for a parent is to be very wary of any school claiming to teach the Vaganova Method unless it is highly selective. Moreover, if the school eventually declines to continue training that child, there still may be other options (if one takes a realistic view of the art and the economics involved), or then again, there may not be.

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citibob...interesting observations, interpretations and ideas! :thumbsup: Unfortunately, I only have time to clarify one point at the moment. I did not mean to mislead you into thinking that most European schools train in the Vaganova method. I was discussing a system of education that allowed for the academics and ballet training (and all that it encompasses ie, partnering, character, historic, acting, music, kinesiology, etc.) to be accomplished under one roof, with students who are selected specifically for the profession. In most European countries I have either visited or lived in students of all ages are grouped into their appropriate schools, be it sciences, literature, a trade of some sort etc. after a very basic level of education. This is what I mean by European schooling.


I may not be openning my mind wide enough to understand your post fully enough to respond approprately at this time. I have many thoughts and ideas but I require some time to respond so as not to be further misunderstood. I probably need to brush up on my writing skills so I may be better understood. :shrug:

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I think people often mistake the implementation of the Vaganova training with the social/politic climate under which it often exists :shrug: Attrition rates at various points in time are often connected with 'forces' (economic, political, etc.) beyond the control of teachers.

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There's one point I wanted to mention--and vrs will probably get to it. But vrs, I recall you mentioning something about the existence of a way of training students with less than ideal bodies (I remember specifically turnout) within the Vaganova method. If this is indeed the case, then a good Vaganova teacher who claims that "Vaganova works for everyone" has a point, which we keep coming back to: it works when it's done properly; unfortunately, outside of the Vaganova Academy, it's rarely done properly, and that's why it has such a bad reputation.

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I agree with citibob on this subject. I also read from that story that it is the unselective school professing to be teaching Vagonava in its pure form that could be detrimental to a young dancer. I don't think that unselective category includes any school with an audition process.

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I wish I could agree with that last sentence, LMC, but unfortunately, I have seen many students who have been accepted to certain well known "Vaganova Schools", by audition, who do not have the rotation necessary to work where they are placed in those schools. They come to us with all kinds of rolling feet and knees, hyperextended backs, and legs so far side that there is no rotation in them at all.


Actually, although we have a selective process at WSB, it is not one that seeks perfection in the bodies of young children, but simply a body that is acceptable for ballet training. However, we believe that children with at least a modicum of natural ability and a decent physique, plus coordination, can study ballet safely as long as they are taught correctly and not forced into things beyond their ability at the time. I think one of the biggest differences in this kind of selection, which I do think is predominant in this country, is that it works as long as the training does not try to impose perfection on non-perfect bodies, but work towards it over a long period of time. I'm speaking primarily of rotation, in terms of taking children who cannot possibly begin in a perfect first position, but hopefully have the potential to learn and increase their rotation and achieve a closer to perfect position in time.


The auditions and selection of students with previous training for the upper division is somewhat different, and by that point in time you are looking for more than potential. However, if we held out for "perfect", there would be so few students that few schools would ever survive! I think there are a few programs who can do this, but very, very few. But then, if you look at a lot of our professional dancers today, I think you will find many who would never have been accepted at the Kirov, but have, with good training, still managed to achieve a career in dance. Perhaps there are just a lot of different degrees of "perfect". :angry:

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