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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Character work

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Please excuse what I'm sure is a very elementary question, but I have read/heard of students taking character classes and was wondering if there is a syllabus of study regarding character. What would be considered a quality approach to instruction? Also, if a school does not offer a specific character class, is this something that is worked on during variations classes/coaching?


Again, sorry to seem ignorant, but admittedly, I am. :)

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I'm sure others will know more, but I can give you our experience. My son has character. There isn't a syllabus per se. The instructor does have a set barre and set exercises. They work on certain character dances. It doesn't seem to vary much. He finds it fairly boring, but the instructor does have experience with the dance form. He's had character in other places and it seems to follow the same format - barre and then working on certain elements or parts of a dance. Perhaps some one else can answer whether the dances are all standard? All of his character instructors have been Russian. From what I've gathered, their goal is to get them to know certain dances that they may be called upon to dance in certain classical ballets.

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Yes, that is correct. Character classes have certain exercises they do at the barre, and then they work on specific dances, such as Mazurka, Czardas, Polanaisse, etc. These dances are used in all the older full length ballets.


Character dance is offered in SI programs particularly because it's so hard to get in most schools on a regular basis. There are not a lot of good teachers, to start with, and then there is the ever existing problem of time and space. It's impossible to fit everything in during the school year when you don't get the students until late afternoon and they have to have ballet and pointe before anything else.

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Character per se has no established curriculum or syllabus. The late Yurek Lazowsky developed a model class while he was teaching at the Ballet Russe school in NYC. Each teacher of character more or less has to formulate syllabi of his/her own for character at various levels of accomplishment. The dances themselves tend to be national dances of various European countries, although I did have a character teacher who sneaked in a little Bharata Natyam (Southern India) vocabulary.

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Vaganova does have a written character syllabus and curriculum that is studied and developed over a number of years. The students begin character dance in the 5th year of study and finish in the 8th year (ages 15-18). It is studied 3 days a week. It parallels much of the classical ballet curriculum. There is a written book, however it is not published in English. I will see if I can find out who wrote the program and when it was originally developed.


All programs of study in Vaganova Academy have a written program of study. The duet/partnering program was written by Seribrenikov, now published in English with additional material by M. Horosko. The historic dance syllabus was written by my teacher's mother, but it is not published in English.


Please excuse me for not being more specific, but my 'books" are not within my reach. When I am able to get to the books, I will fill in the names with correct spelling. :) Or if anyone knows the names and spelling, please correct my mistakes.

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RAD also has character written into the grades syllabus, but not in vocational track, odd to say. My own character training came mostly from Mr. Lazowsky and teachers who were trained up in the Legat School, so I assume it was Nicolai's own syllabus that was used.

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Yes the character in the RAD syllabus is based on national dances from Hungary, Russia and Poland, depending on the grade. There aren't any barre exercises though, just centre work although I sometimes teach some of the harder steps at the barre first.

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I studied character with Yurek Lazowsky weekly for four years. I thought I knew what character was and boldly walked into my first character class at a National Ballet School of Canada's teacher's course four years later ready to experience again the joy that Mr. Lazowsky had created in me with his wonderful classes. From the first exercise at the barre, I was almost completely lost! What they were doing at NBS in 1973 bore little resemblance to what I had learned, and they were fast going at it! I shrunk away to observe. This was not my character! All the exercises were new to me.


However, decades later, when my children studied character at a Vaganova school, there was Mr. Lazowsky's character again, and all was well with the world. They followed a graded curriculum with a wonderful teacher from the Bolshoi. My daughter started her character classes with this teacher's husband, who had been a member of the Moiseyev troupe. When she studied in Estonia at the Tallinn Ballet School, I could see there was a definite syllabus for each year. I even have the tape of final exams for the year my daughter was there, and the advancement year to year is quite apparent in the barre exercises.


Both my son and daughter were very good in character class and found it as exhilarating and exciting as I did. For evidence of practical applications: while with the Estonian National Ballet, daughter was cast in the mazurka in Swan Lake and performed it at least 30 times during the year it was in the repertoire. While with Orlando Ballet, she was chosen to dance the Hungarian Dance with two other dancers, an ensemble piece which was performed endless times for school performances and other specific groups, usually accompanied by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. With her home studio's company, Canadian Ballet Theatre, she danced, with a partner imported from a current Canadian professional character ensemble, the Russian dance, Act II Nutcracker. While with Ontario Ballet Theatre, she was Spanish soloist in the Nutcracker. Both mazurka and Hungarian dance were performed in character shoes, Russian and Spanish dances on pointe, and her training in character was directly responsible for her success in all the roles.

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Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to respond to my question. The information each of you has given is, as always, so helpful.

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