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Posted on 06 August, 2020 | By Sassy Mama
Does Dancing Really Lead to Better Memory? Elevate Dance Academie Shares 5 Long-term Benefits of Dance
Could dance give your kids good posture, better discipline and even better grades? Read on as Elevate Dance Academie lists out the long-term benefits of dance
Few things feel better than getting a good shimmy out, right mama? Dancing always puts us in a good mood – even babies can’t resist bobbing side-to-side when music plays! But what if we told you it could boost your child’s academic performance, along with increasing focus and attention span? Turns out there are plenty of long-term benefits to dance, making it one of the best enrichment programmes for your kids to try.
1. Dancing Builds Better Posture & Agility
With ballet being the the main foundation in most forms of dance, taking formal classes can help to train your body to adopt a better posture while standing, sitting and working. Basic tips include, “Shoulders pulled down, straighten spine, core engaged, butt in, centred pelvis, weights off your heels, arms lighted.” – all the essential pointers for good posture! This is the chant you would hear on repeat in a dance class, according to qualified, award winning multi-genre dance teacher LangLey of Elevate Dance Academie, who has more than 23 years of teaching.
2. Dancing Lifts Your Mood & Can Strengthen Friendships
Dancing increases levels of seratonin in the body. The feel-good hormone contributes to wellbeing and happiness, which can be a good way for kids to find balance between winding down and academics.
Joining a dance class often means participating in group dances, which encourages teamwork. While most schools conduct a selection process, Elevate strictly does not select children to compete in group competitions in order to give every child a fair chance at performing. This may result in less-than-perfect group dances, but is so worth it to cultivate inspired, passionate little dancers!
3. Dancing Frequently Can Boost Memory & Make You Smarter
According to a 21-year study by the New England Journal of Medicine, the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing. Dancing is a mentally engaging activity, encouraging the cerebral cortex and hippocampus of the brain (which are activated during physical activity) to rewire themselves and allow for better information processing speed and loading.
4. Dancing Helps with Discipline, Attention & Focus
A structured dance programme can encourage students to keep striving to progress in their technique and ability as they challenge themselves through the various grades. As the whole body is activated during a dance class, students are more likely to pay attention and focus on the task at hand. In the long run, these qualities build perseverance!
5. Dancing Makes You More Creative
At local dance schools like Elevate Dance Academie, most students start off with ballet as the main foundation and eventually venture into different dance styles of their choice. This allows them to get creative and discover what interests them! Exploring new forms of dance can also encourage kids to search for creativity in other aspects of their life, whether during play or academically.
Focusing on classical ballet, modern and jazz, Elevate Dance Academie offers a holistic and comprehensive dance curriculum in a positive, unbiased environment. Their specially curated Extension Programme complements the dance school’s curriculum to expose students to a well-rounded dance experience. It includes opportunities for dancers to participate in international dance exams (including the RAD, ISTD and CSTD certifications), dance concerts, annual overseas immersion programmes, local excursions, tailored guest workshops and master classes by international and local instructors – so your kiddos will learn from the most accomplished dance pros! The school also emphasises on encouraging versatility and the development of self-concept.
So even if your child is not keen on making dance their ultimate career, the benefits are tremendous to help them succeed in life creatively and even academically! Elevate has students of all backgrounds (some as young as 3 years old and as old as 28!) who have made dancing a part of their life while successfully balancing school and work.
So are your little dancers ready to ‘Take It Beyond The Stage’, mama? Find out more with Elevate Dance Academie and you could be looking at the next Misty Copeland of Singapore!
Sign up with a friend and get 10% off your next term* fees! *Must be one full complete term. Terms & Conditions apply.
Modern emerged in the 19th century when ballet had previously dominated the dancing world, receiving its widespread success in the 20th. It is a style of dance that emerged as a reaction to the strict rules of classical ballet.
According to historians, modern has two main birthplaces: Europe (specifically Germany) and the United States. Each rebelled against the rigid formalism and superficiality of classical ballet with the aim to inspire audiences to a new awareness of inner or outer realities. Some historians have suggested that socioeconomic changes in both the United States and Europe helped to initiate the shifts in the dance world. In United States, the increasing industrialisation created the rise of a middle class with more disposable income and free time, while the decline of Victorian social structures in Europe led to many changes such as a new interest in overall wellbeing.
Although Modern evolves as a concert dance form, it has no direct roots with any ballet companies or academic institution. Modern dance emerges as a consequence of its time, alone and per choreographer.
François Delsarte (1811 – 1871), a French singer and coach was considered as a precursor by modern dance history as he invented a theory on the relationship between human movement and feelings. He concluded that each emotion will correspond a movement and the source of dance comes from inside the dancer. His idea boosted one of the main ideological components of modern dance: inner feelings and intensity as the cause of movement and quality.
Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865 – 1950), a Swiss composer, pianist, educator and conductor who invented a new approach to movement called Eurhythmics; an approach to studying and experiencing music through movement. His teaching used the body to express musicality and delivered his discoveries in his school, Institution of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, mainly to musicians and not for dancers. However, his approach reached some of the most important modern dance figures of the time, like V. Nijinsky (through Marie Rambert), Mary Wigman and Rudolph Laban.
The Pioneer of Modern Dance
Isadora Duncan (1877 – 1927), an American dancer who performed to great acclaim throughout Europe was a prime predecessor of modern dance and was largely self‐taught. She thought that ballet was ugly and meaningless. She created a vocabulary of basic movements to heroic and expressive standard as dance is the expression of her personal life. She discarded the corset, slippers, ballet tutu and adopted tunics. She stressed on the torso, bare feet, loose hair, free-flowing costumes, and humor expression. She created her dances around nature such as waves, clouds, wind and trees. She abstracted the emotions induced by the music from which she translated its emotions with composers Beethoven, Wagner, and Gluck. She was also inspired by classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, natural forces, and new American athleticism such as skipping, running, jumping, leaping, and abrupt movements. Duncan established her first school of dance just outside of Berlin, where she began to develop her theories of dance education and to assemble her famous dance group, Isadorables. Her contribution is not considered so much in terms of technique but mostly on the means for the cultural process of opening minds. Although she returned to the United States at various points in her life, her work was not well received there. She returned to Europe and died in Nice in 1927.
Loie Fuller (1862 – 1928), an American actress turned dancer whom first gave the free dance artistic status in the United States. She used dance to imitate and illustrate natural phenomena, movement and improvisation techniques: flame, flower, butterfly. She experimented with the effect of theatre’s gas lighting equipment, and patented her apparatus and methods of stage lighting that included the use of coloured gels and burning chemicals for luminescence as well as her translucent voluminous silk stage costumes. Fuller having little dance training, her main concern was not dance, storytelling or expressing emotions, but rather emphasised on visual effect. She is acknowledged by modern dance history for her great contribution in new possibilities of scenic illusion, thanks to the use of the development of electricity.
Ruth St. Denis (1879 – 1968) was an American modern dance pioneer, introducing eastern ideas into the art. She was raised and encouraged to perform from a young age. She grows within an ideological ambience of oriental religions, which reflected in her choreography. She believed that dance could transcend into the spiritual realm and experimented with dance forms that derived from the religious influences of Asia, India and Egypt. She relied on elaborated costumes to evoke mystical feelings where female dancer are priestess, which contrasts with the dancer as a woman of little virtue. She debuted as a skirt dancer, what was then a rather indecent form of dancing because of the woman’s legs being briefly visible. Her distinctive dance style combined spiral form with equal parts voluptuousness, mysticism and erotica. Despite local opposition, St. Denis’ new style of dancing was a hit, particularly in Europe where she built a stunning career as a soloist and in 1914, married a professional and partner, Ted Shawn.
Ted Shawn (1891 – 1972) successfully achieved the formal teaching of modern dance. He was the first notable male pioneers of American modern dance, who became Ruth St. Denis partner and husband in 1914. He promoted and innovated masculine movement with the first company composed by men only. He toured around the United States and attracted many young people from the high intellectual level. In 1915 St. Denis and Shawn formed the The Denishawn School and helped increased the popularity of modern dance throughout the United States and abroad, and nurtured the leaders of the second generation of modern dance such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. To add to St. Denis’ mainly eastern influence, Shawn brought the spirit of North African, Spanish, American and Amerindian influence to the table. St. Denis was responsible for the creative work, and Shawn for teaching technique and composition. Though St. Denis and Shawn had a stormy relationship, both on and offstage, what they accomplished together had a lasting impact.
Early Modern – The First Generation of Modern Dance
During the 1920s, a passion for interpretive dancing swept America. Duncan’s fame and Denishawn’s tours had introduced audiences and dancers alike to the concept of a new form of serious theatrical dancing. During this period, artists began developing and codifying new dance techniques. This first generation included Rudolf Laban, Martha Graham, Mary Wigman, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, Francois Delsarte, Charles Weidman, Agnes de Mille, Lester Horton and many others.
Rudolf Laban (1879 – 1958), an Austro-Hungarian Empire dance artist and theorist founded a school in Munich 1910 at which Mary Wigman was one of his students. Exiled in the 1930s, he immigrated to England, where he established the Art of Movement Studio 1946 in Manchester and worked until his death on his system of notation. His notation, Labanotation, is the most complete and effective system for analysing and writing movement, created till time. He opened a completely new theoretical frame for movement shape and quality analysis. Anne Hutchinson Guest brings his movement notation system to the United States, where it is now taught in many institution for high level dance education.
Mary Wigman (1886 – 1973) was a German dancer and choreographer, notable as the pioneer of expressionist dance, dance therapy, and movement training without pointe shoes. She opposed radically to classical dance values and methods. She performed in Germany after studying with Laban and opened her own, Wigman School 1920 in Dresden which was closed by the Nazis but reopened in Berlin 1948. Mary Wigman choreography often employed non-Western instrumentation such as bells, gongs, percussion and drums from Asia and Africa. She used fundamental human emotions, relationships, superstitions, and ecstatic spinning in her choreography. Her costumes were simple, made with dark rough fabrics, and often included masks. Her dance pieces are tragic with dark characters, as well as vibrant, excited and passionate. Her choreographic work and thought are considered as part of the artistic trend called German expressionism or “Ausdrückstanz”. She created several schools and among her renowned students are Hanya Holm, Harald Kreutzberg, Gret Paluca and Kurt Joos.
Hanya Holm (1893 – 1992) was born in Germany and studied at the Institution of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze and, later learn and teach with Mary Wigman’s Wigman School. She launched Wigman branch in New York City 1931. Holm had a unique form of technique that shaped generations of dancers and choreographers including Alwin Nikolais, Mary Anthony, Valerie Bettis, Don Redlich, Alfred Brooks, Liz Aggiss and Glen Tetley. Her technique stressed the importance of body’s relation to space and emotion, which was an extension of Wigman and Laban. For example, the pulse, planes, floor patterns, aerial design, direction, and spatial dimensions. Holm’s movement emphasised the freedom and flowing quality of the torso and back, but remained based on universal principles of physics for motion. Her choreographic regularly use improvisation and with absolute dance without pantomime or dramatic overtones in which, conveying an idea in her choreography was far more important than dancers’ technical ability. Her theatre work achieved a rare degree of dramatic and choreographic fusion. In 1936, in response to rising antifascist sentiment, it was renamed the Hanya Holm School of Dance. She choreographed successfully on Broadway with dances for Kiss Me, Kate (1948), My Fair Lady (1956), and Camelot (1960).
Intermediate Modern – The Second Generation of Modern Dance
Martha Graham (1894 – 1991), an American dancer began studying at Denishawn. During the next seven years, Graham evolved from a student, to a teacher, to one of the company’s best‐known performers. Martha Graham began to open up fresh elements of emotional expression in dance and focuses on contraction, release and spiral. She found the breath pulse as the primary source of dance; exaggerating the contractions and expansions of the torso and flexing of the spine caused by breathing. She devised a basis for movement that represented the human being’s inner conflicts. Graham explored themes from Americana, Greek mythology, and the Old Testament. She viewed music merely as a frame for dance. In 1926, Martha Graham founded her dance company and school, living and working out of a tiny Carnegie Hall studio in midtown Manhattan. It is now known for being the oldest American dance company.
Doris Humphrey (1895 – 1958) was American dancer and choreographer of the early 20th century, and creator of the technique known as fall and recovery; an original dancing technique by observing the relationship between gravity and human body; the arc between balance and imbalance of the moving human body, represented one’s conflicts with the surrounding world. She taught extremely important technical notions like weight, rebound, suspension and the importance of breath. She studied at the Denishawn school in Los Angeles, where her teaching and creative abilities were quickly recognised. Doris Humphrey emphasised craftsmanship and structure in choreography, also developing the use of groupings and complexity in ensembles. Her work has an unerring sense of form, as well as an interest in large‐scale abstract works. Her book, The Art of Making Dances (1959), was based on her theories about dance composition. Humphrey experimented more with sound; in a 1924 work she discarded music altogether and performed in silence, and later she used nonmusical sound effects, including spoken texts and bursts of hysterical laughter. Her themes were social and often heroic in scale, e.g., the trilogy New Dance (1935), which treats human relationships.
Charles Weidman (1901 – 1975) an American dancer was inspired to become a dancer at fifteen after seeing Ruth St. Denis during a touring performance. In 1920, he received a scholarship to spend the summer studying at the Denishawn school in Los Angeles. Before the session had ended, Weidman was hired as a dancer for the Denishawn company. Weidman brought a very masculine approach to dancing that drew other men to the art form. His kinetic pantomime and abstract movement added remarkable appeal to his dances. In 1928 Charles Weidman together with Doris Humphrey formed the Humphrey‐Weidman Studio and Company in New York. Weidman’s movements were abstracted from everyday situations provided a different kind of social commentary from comedy to seriousness, and created a new style of dance by rejecting ballet and embracing gravity. He established the Charles Weidman Theater Dance Company after Doris Humphrey retired from performing in 1945. In his company he trained famous choreographers such as José Limón, Bob Fosse and Louis Falco.
Agnes de Mille (1905 – 1993) had a love for acting and originally wanted to be an actress, but was told that she was not pretty enough, so she turned her attention to dance. She made her solo debut in New York in 1928. In the 1930s in London, she studied with Marie Rambert, danced in the premiere of Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies (1937), and worked on concert pieces that inspired her successes of the 1940s. Among these was Rodeo (1942), the Americana classic she choreographed for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and the dances for the Broadway musical Oklahoma! (1943). Oklahoma! was a turning point in Broadway history, and required training in ballet and modern dance. During the 1940s de Mille created a number of works for Ballet Theatre that revealed the light touch of her Broadway choreography and the interest in American material that inspired her to form the Agnes de Mille Heritage Dance Theatre in the 1970s. A gifted writer, she is the author of several books, including a highly‐regarded biography of Martha Graham.
Lester Horton (1906 – 1953) studied at the Denishawn School, besides having early classes in ballet and Native-American dance. The Lester Horton Dance Group first appeared in 1932 and became noted over the ensuing two decades for an individual technique and theatrical style that embraced themes of social and political protest. Horton developed his own approach to dance that incorporated diverse elements including Native American Folk Dance, Japanese arm gestures, Javanese and Balinese isolations for the upper body, particularly the eyes, head and hands, Afro-Caribbean elements, like hip circles. Horton Technique has no style and emphasises a whole body, anatomical approach to dance that includes flexibility, strength, coordination and body and spatial awareness to enable unrestricted, dramatic freedom of expression. Highlights of his repertory include at least six versions of Oscar Wilde’s erotic Salome, Le Sacre du Printemps (1937). Horton also choreographed commercial projects and created the dances for Hollywood films. His students included Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham.
Development – The Third Generation of Modern Dance
By the end of World War II, young choreographers had begun breaking the rules of the modern dance establishment, creating dances that had no theme, expressed no emotion, dispensed with the dance vocabulary of fall and recovery, contraction and release. This generation of modern dance included artists such as Sybil Louise Shearer (1912 – 2005)’s random fantasies, Erick Hawkins’s impressionistic soft rhythms, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, José Limón, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Alvin Ailey, Anna Halprin, Yvonne Rainer, and Twyla Tharp.
Merce Cunningham (1919 – 2009) was a prime influence on the development of postmodern dance in the 1960s and later. Trained at the Cornish School, Mills College, and the School of American Ballet, he danced with the Martha Graham Company from 1939 to 1945, creating lead roles. He began to present his own choreography in the 1940s and in 1953 founded Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Cunningham freed dance from spatial restraints devising dances that can be viewed from any angle and also released dance from traditional musical constraints by using electronic music and other compositions of his musical director, John Cage. In addition, he liberated his own choreography from structural limitations by using techniques of chance, such as throws of the dice, to determine the order in which sections of a work should occur. Eventually rejecting psychological and emotional elements present in the choreography of Graham and others, Cunningham developed his own dance technique and method which emphasised more balletic movement and flexibility of the back and torso, influenced generations of dancers and choreographers.
José Limón (1908 – 1972) was born Mexico but moved to Los Angeles in 1915. His powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer and his choreography continues to bring a dramatic vision of dance to audiences worldwide. Limón moved to New York City in 1928 and in 1946, after studying and performing for 10 years with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, he established his own company with Humphrey as Artistic Director. Limón’s choreographic works were quickly recognised as masterpieces and the Company itself became a landmark of American dance. His Limon technique comes from human movement, feeling and the sensations the body experiences in motion, rather than how it looks for performance. His concepts include breath and its influence on movement, the impact of weight on individual body parts and how the expression created, flexibility of the spine, body-part isolations, the dynamism between fall and recovery, rebound, weight, suspension and succession. In 1997 he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Hall of Fame in New York.
Katherine Dunham (1909 – 2006) studied at University of Chicago and was an African-American dancer, choreographer, anthropologist and social activist. She examined, interpreted and dwell into the roots of black dances, rituals, and folklore in the Americas, Africa and Caribbean, and transformed them into artistic choreography. By incorporating authentic regional and anthropological dance movements, she developed a technical system that educated her students mentally as well as physically. Her technique led toward a total rhythmic immersion. Katherine Dunham is credited for developing one of the most important pedagogy for teaching dance that is still used throughout the world, called the “Matriarch of Black Dance”. Her groundbreaking repertoire combined innovative interpretations of the Caribbean dances, traditional ballet, African rituals and African American rhythms to create the Dunham Technique. The Dunham Company toured for two decades around the globe in 57 countries.
Pearl Primus (1919 – 1994) was an American dancer, choreographer, anthropologist and played an important role in the presentation of African dance to American audiences. Primus was born in Trinidad and raised in New York City, where she attended Hunter College. After graduating with a degree in biology in 1940, she studied at the New School for Social Research in New York with a scholarship. She studied African and African-American material, and developed a repertory of dances emphasising the rich variety of African diasporic traditions. In 1948, she received a grant to collect material and document dances in Africa that in some cases were fading into history. Back in New York, she opened the Pearl Primus School of Primal Dance. In 1961 she became the director of the African Performing Arts Center in Monrovia, Liberia, the first organization of its kind in Africa. A buoyant and charismatic performer, Primus lectured widely and taught courses in anthropology and ethnic dance on many campuses.
Paul Taylor (1930 – 2018) was born on July 29, 1930 and grew up in and around Washington DC. He attended Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship in the late 1940s until he discovered dance through books and then transferred to The Juilliard School. He performed the works of Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and George Balanchine. He was a soloist with Graham’s company from 1955 to 1962 while founded his own company, Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954. He had his interest in everyday gesture and carried an incredible range of motion, emotion, imagination and issues such as war, piety, spirituality, sexuality, morality and mortality. For example, by having dancers move one-by-one into the wing as they wait to use a public telephone. He also presented an evening of minimal dance, which consisted of him standing on the stage alone in street clothes and making only tiny changes in posture to a recorded voice of a telephone operator announcing the time at 10-second intervals; outraged dance critics and ignored the performance.
Alvin Ailey (1931 – 1989) was an African-American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. He was influenced primarily by Lester Horton and later with Katherine Dunham, Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham. He combined elements of modern, jazz, and African dance in his work. His company has been internationally acclaimed and has brought recognition to many African-American and Asian dancers. Although the company was initially accused of amplifying and transforming the emotivity characteristic of Graham into metaphors of the American black experience and feelings, Ailey denied and continued to employ artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity, regardless of their background.
Other famous dancers include Anna Halprin, Yvonne Rainer, Twyla Tharp, Bela Lewitzky, Jerome Robbins, Paul Horton, Daniel Nagrin, Erick Hawkins, David Winters, Eliot Feld and Jaime Rogers. Jazz/modern dance choreographers include Bob Fosse, Gus Giordano and Luigi. Other important and more recent German dancer-choreographers include Kurt Joos and his student Pina Bausch.
For many dancers, dance tell stories and make statements about the current society. The dancers who developed modern dance wanted to make a statement about previous limitations of dance and the body. Since its founding, modern dance has been redefined many times and changes in the concepts and practices of new generations of choreographers, the term modern grows more ambigous.
Ballet has embraced many cultures and traditions, and evolved. Across the globe, many companies, vocational schools, techniques and methods have been established with differences in characteristics and style.
In this article, we will discuss some of the techniques widely used in the world.
The French technique is the basis of all ballet training. When Louis XIV created the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661, he helped create the codified technique and vocabulary still used today.
French technique was particularly revitalised under Rudolf Nureyev (1938 – 1993) in the 1980s when he worked as the director of the Paris Opera Ballet School and has drastically shaped ballet as a whole. He incorporated his own styles along with his Russian training into the French classical teaching.
Dancers are trained to attain a traditional and classical ethereal look, while executing steps that are both impressive and virtuously quick.
It is often characterised by technical precision, fluidity, gracefulness, elegance, clean lines, musicality and fast tempo. Fast footwork and quantity of steps is often utilised in order to give the impression that the performers are drifting lightly across the stage. Hence the music was often played slower. Port de bras and épaulement are more rounded than the Russian technique, but not as rounded as the Danish.
The French technique is one of the most fluid method but due to its informal creation and lack of literature, it is not practiced outside of the Paris Opera Ballet School.
Bournonville Technique (Danish)
Bournonville emphasis that dance should not be an expression of joy and romantic only but also touches the heart with natural grace, precision, dramatic impact and harmony between body and music. Dancers exudes fluidity, delicate detail, seamlessness, musicality and displays movements effortlessly though they are technically challenging. He never composed a variation in which dancers merely run or walk from one corner to another. The dancer dances the entire time even with his or her back to the audience. He created his ballets with himself in mind, establishing the importance of male character which was slowly neglected during his time. The movements feature virtuosic male solos filled with strength and ballon.
Bournonville technique is marked by lightness and fast footwork against an at-ease upper body where the eyes is lowered and upper body follows the working leg, to exude kindness instead of proud. A key component of this technique is the distinctive lifted torso framework; the use of diagonal and graceful épaulements in which the upper body turns towards the working foot. It incorporates the basic use of shaped and soft arms which are usually held in preparatory position for every beginning and end of movements. Pirouettes begins from a low position, often starts with a low developpe into seconde for outside turns and with a low developpe into 4th for inside turns. Jumps are ballon with the illusion of imponderable lightness. This technique focuses specifically on the romantic tone and tells a vivid love story. The legs define rhythm while the arms define melody. The main principle is to execute with natural grace and with harmony between body and music.
Cecchetti Technique (Italian)
The Cecchetti technique developed by Enrico Cecchetti (1850 – 1928), an Italian ballet dancer, is a strict training regimen with an emphasis on understanding of anatomy and science.
The goal of this technique is to instil important characteristics for the performance of ballet into students so that they do not rely on imitations of teachers. It enforces planned exercise routines for each day of the week and ensures that each part of the body is worked evenly by combining different types of steps into planned routines. For example, a specific barre for each day of the week and each side of the body is worked altering from week to week.
This technique teaches quality over quantity; it was better to execute the movement right once, rather than doing it sloppily several times.
This technique adopt the importance of recognising that all parts of the body move together to create beautiful, graceful lines; against thinking of ballet in terms of the arms, legs, neck and torso as separate parts. Dancers arms and legs are all one working entity. The energy is focused through the feet and up through the head so the line goes on infinitely. It develops a dancer’s balance, ballon, poise, elevation, poise, suppleness and strength. It is famous for its 40 adagios composed by Cecchetti and the popularly known 8 port de bras.
The training system traditionally has 7 grades with examinations up to diploma level. The progression helps to ensure that movements are taught based on a planned sequence. Hence new movements are only introduced once previous movements are mastered.
Vaganova Technique (Russian)
The technique is created by ex-dancer of the Marinsky Ballet, Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951) while teaching at the Leningrad Choreographic School by the Soviet government in the early 1920s. Her book “Basic Principles of Russian Classical Dance” 1948, outlined her ideas on ballet technique and pedagogy which includes outlining precise teacher’s instruction on when to teach, what technical components to teach, for how long to focus on it, and what amount of focus at each stage of the student’s career. This technique is marked by the fusion of the classical French style, elements from the Romantic era, athleticism of the Italian method and the dramatic soulfulness of Russian ballet.
Vaganova technique focuses on the equal importance of expressiveness of port de bras using all parts of the arm, development of the lower back mobility and robust legs with extreme flexibility, strength and endurance. It is very neat with precise movements that expresses clean lines yet softness underneath. Vaganova emphasised dancing with the entire body by promoting harmonious movement among arms, legs and torso. She believed that the torso was the foundation of all movements, so the dancer’s torso had to be strengthened. One exercise she prescribed for this area was that of doing plies with the feet in first position. Many movements required the dancer to remain in the air for as long as possible to offer an illusion of floating. Arms should not simply decorate a movement, but should assist the dancer in high jumps and turns. All training can be encompassed and displayed in the course of one grand pas de deux, hence how the graduation exams are done.
In 1957, the school was renamed the Vaganova Ballet Academy and continues to be the associate school of the former Imperial Russian Ballet, now the Mariinsky Ballet. In total, the syllabus traditionally consists of 8 levels up to diploma. Early training focuses on two aspects: epaulement and the development of total stability and strength in the back. Some famous dancers are Anna Pavlova, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and George Balanchine.
Side note: In Russia, there’s another technique called the Legat method named by Nikolai Legat.
Balanchine Technique (American)
Developed by George Balanchine (1904 – 1983) at the New York City Ballet. His method draws heavily on his own training in the Imperial Ballet School Russia.
Balanchine had a special liking for jazz and modern movement, as well as being a huge fan of Fred Astaire. He enjoyed watching dancers break laws of motion and would not allow an orchestra to slow down for his dancers, clearly stating his liking of speed. His dancers developed speed of motion and utilise more space in less time that they would fit a lot of movement into a small block of music.
Today, the Balanchine technique is taught at the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, as well as at the schools of Miami City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Ballet Chicago Studio Company.
Many of Balanchine’s ballets reflect a contemporary or neoclassical style, a reaction to the Romantic anti-classicism. The technique focuses on the dance itself and not on a story plot. Balanchine technique dancers must be extremely fit and flexible. It is known for its extreme speed, athleticism, emphasis on long limbs, very deep pliés, off-balance positions, flexed hands and feet. The longer arabesque line could be achieved by opening the hip to or away from the audience while the sidearm is pressed back. This type of placement goes against general ballet form. Another key difference is en dehors pirouettes taken from a lunge in fourth position with a straight back leg.
Royal Academy of Dance, RAD Technique (English)
Founded in London in 1920, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) or known as as the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing previously, was established by a group of dance professional.
Considered as one of the youngest ballet technique, also referred to as the English technique, it infused the best elements of the Cecchetti, French, Bournonville and Vaganova technique to create a new syllabus that produces a more rounded dancer who has a solid technique yet gentle and express emotions through their dancing.
It is an international dance examination board where there are specific grade and vocational levels which a student move through in order to complete the training. It is a ballet-focused path designed for older children and young adults who wished to pursue a career in professional dance.
The key principle behind this technique is the attention to detail and that basic ballet technique must be taught at a slow pace, with difficulty progression often much slower than other techniques. As a result, the primary importance is placed on executing steps with improved technique rather than increasing the level of difficulty. Through this, students are expected to execute harder techniques easily. This technique is characterised by the incorporation of classical ballet technique, free movement and character dance.
Today, this technique is widely spread worldwide, in Northern America and parts of Asia.
Chinese ballet is a new form of technique mostly derived, evolved and still developing from the long standing tradition and structured Chinese dance in China. It has a unique mixture of traditional Chinese folk stories, a touch of ideology and a dash of western ballet techniques and styles with adaptation to well-known classical productions.
There is the exquisite and distinctive approach in teaching of the technique where students focus on precise positions and placement, extreme strength and flexibility especially on their backs and hips, and performances are filled with highly intense emotion. Students backs are unusually supple and legs extensions are high without any apparent forcing. Companies and schools adapting this technique follow a strict training schedule, developing students with great dignity, poise, composure and concentration.
Companies adapting this technique are National Ballet of China, Shanghai Ballet, the Classical Ballet of Guangzhou, and the China Liaoning Ballet.
Ballet spans over centuries and continents. It has years of experimentation and artistic inspiration to establish its unique methods, techniques and styles. Ballet started with court ballet before evolving into opera-ballet and the comédie-ballet, and later the classical ballet which is widely spread today.
In this article, we will discuss the different styles created, mainly the 4 important ones: Classical Ballet, Romantic Ballet, Neoclassical Ballet and Contemporary/Modern Ballet.
Classical ballet is the foundation from which nearly all dance genres have developed. It requires strong technique, athleticism and grace. Itis the oldest and structured according to the framework established in the 19th century based on both traditional vocabulary and technique. Its main characteristics are the orchestrated music, story-driven, balance and symmetry, etherealness, elaborated costumes and sets narrated in formal mime gestures. Pointe work, poise, formation in dancers, long lines, turnout and graceful expressions are emphasised.
One of the most well-known classical ballet production is Swan Lake, but it was actually a bit too avant-garde for the audiences back when it premiered in 1877. Swan Lake’s dancers, orchestra and decor were not well received. Audiences disliked Tchaikovsky’s now-classic score citing it too complex. Critics and audiences warmed up to the ballet after the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov‘s Swan Lake at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Audiences were particularly charmed by Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani (1868 – 1930), who played Odette between 1894 – 1895. She turned 32 fouettés in the final scene of the ballet, emphasising strength and technique. She first performed the 32 fouettés en tournant in the coda of the Grand Pas d’action of the ballet Cinderella, and was famous as the first ballerina to execute that.
Romantic ballet was an artistic movement of classical ballet and extremely important because it was the first time female dancers went on pointe. Prior to the romantic period, it was uncommon to have a female heroine. The romantic era was marked by the emergence of pointe work, female dancers’ predominance and longer soft tutus that attempt to exemplify softness and delicate aura. It emphasised intense drama and emotion as a source of aesthetic story-telling. The plots of many romantic ballets revolved around sylphs or mythological creature or spirit and ghosts who enslaved the hearts and senses of mortal men. This style was based on the conflicts between both good and evil, beauty and ugliness, fantasy and spirit.
Three notable romantic ballet are La Sylphide 1832, Giselle 1841 and Coppélia 1870.
Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884), who first danced in La Sylphide and her choreographer and teacher father, Filippo Taglioni (1777 – 1871) were considered the pioneer in romantic ballet. Her sylph ethereal qualities, grace, and dramatic capabilities made her the famous ballerina of the era. For the first time, supernatural storyline performed on stage. The concept was about an unfortunate hero, forever chasing a supernatural force and ultimately face a tragic destiny.
Nine years later Giselle, a romantic-ballet-pantomime was staged. Carlotta Grisi (1819 – 1899) was known for her ability to perform as both the sensual and spiritual dancer when she debuted as Giselle. A dual role of the sensual and playful peasant girl in the first act and the ghostly spiritual in the second act.
Arthur Saint-Léon’s (1821 – 1870) Coppélia premiered in May 1870. It was considered to be the last work of the romantic ballet. It is a comic romantic ballet featuring a young protagonist, dancing dolls, and magic, but had a dark history with the ballet’s original run interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war and a terrible siege in Paris. The ballet was only performed 12 times before the theatre was shut down and later used as a storage facility during the siege.
Neoclassical ballet emerged in the 1920s and evolved throughout the 20th century. Artists of many disciplines began to rebel and distance themselves against the overly dramatised style of the romantic ballet. As a result, dance returned to a more simplistic style like the original classical ballet except bolder, stronger, more athletic and free of distractions. Neoclassical ballets uses traditional classical ballet vocabulary but far less rigid and are sophisticated, sleek, modern, and clean because of the focus on dance itself as opposed to the marriage of sets, costumes, makeup and dance. It is usually abstract with non-narrative and no clear plot, using simple costumes or sets. The work are usually increased in speed, energy and attack, asymmetry with an off-balance feel. Dancers’ movement are the main artistic medium which is the hallmark of neoclassical ballet; meaning the revival or adaptation of the classical style. It is aimed for the purity of expression and sophisticated movement by eliminating distracting theatrical elements.
George Balanchine (1904 – 1983), a graduate of the Imperial Ballet School in Russia, was considered to represent the neoclassical style and is well-known for his modern-yet-classical clean aesthetic. Balanchine used flexed hands and turned-in legs, off-centered positions and non-classical costumes such as leotards and tunics instead of tutus, to distance himself from the classical and romantic ballet traditions. He built upon the traditional classical ballet vocabulary by extending lines and positions, playing with speed and tempo, freedom of movement and new positions outside of the ballet vocabulary. The staging is more modern and complex.
Balanchine found a home for his neoclassical style in the United States, when Lincoln Kirstein (1907 – 1996) brought him to New York in 1933 to start a ballet company. He started a school, where he trained dancers in his technique and the School of American Ballet was founded in 1934. He invented the Balanchine technique, which is now widely used in the United States. A topic we will discuss in another article. Many of his most famous neoclassical ballets were choreographed in both his school and his own company the New York City Ballet, which was founded in 1948 and still exists today. Balanchine’s first foray into the neoclassical style was Apollon Musegete, choreographed in 1928 for the Ballets Russes. Unlike many of his later works, this ballet tells a story which indicates that Balanchine had not yet completely broken free from the romantic tradition. This ballet first premiered with large sets, costumes and props. Balanchine continually revised it as his style evolved and renamed the ballet simply Apollo. He produced more plotless, musically driven ballets such as The Prodigal Son 1929, Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), Symphony in C (1947), Agon (1957) and Jewels (1967).
Contemporary ballet is influenced by classical ballet, modern and sometimes jazz. It takes inspiration from classical technique, use of pointe work and expanded with a greater range of movement that are not found in the strict discipline of old school teachings. Many of its concepts come from ideas and innovations of modern, including floor work, turned-in legs and greater range of movement and body line.
There is no set rules for contemporary ballet. It can be performed on pointe, barefoot or soft shoes. Contemporary ballets, unlike neoclassical ballet, may include mime and acting, and the same versatile approach goes for the music, setting, and costumes. It does not require certain standards to be met or conform to any limits. Classical ballet requires classical music, tutus, pointe shoes and scenery but contemporary ballet uses different types of costumes, ranging from traditional to more modern tunic type versions and music can range from traditional to new popular music.
Experimentation and creativity are the two main points, driving the audience to think upon the aesthetic lines the body conveys and the power of movement. According to Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, classical ballet was very much directed toward the audience. Neoclassical started to change shapes but was still toward the audience. With contemporary ballet, the audience is asked to look at what is happening between the dancers. Another notable choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon said the style also means any ballet choreography that is made today.
Today someone training as a dancer will be expected to perform the formal classical work, lyrical and free neoclassical work, technical modern and the undefined contemporary work. There are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers all over the world. Notable companies include Nederlands Dans Theater, Rambert Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. Likewise, many traditionally classical companies now regularly perform contemporary works. It is very common for ballet companies to have an official choreographer in residence to create new contemporary work.
Ballet comes from the Italian word “ballare,” which means “to dance”.
It began in 15th – 16th century in Italy during the Renaissance period as a court dance, in grand estates and palaces. It was the aristocratic money that dictated the ideas, literature and music used as ballet was for the aristocrats’ entertainment and political propaganda, and predominantly performed by men. Tutus, ballet slippers and pointe work were not yet used. The choreography was adapted from court dance steps.
Ballet was participatory with the audience joining the dance at the end. Steps composed were small hops, slides, curtsies, promenades, and gentle turns as dancers wore sumptuous restrictive clothing such as heavy headdresses, masks, formal gowns and layered brocaded costuming to re-enact mythology which is heavy on gods and heroes. Ballets were first included in to the midst of an opera to allow the audience a moment of relief from the dramatic intensity.
France – Classical Ballet:
When an Italian aristocrat, Catherine de Medici (1519 – 1589) married the French King Henry II, she introduced early dance styles into court life in France and offered financial help. She commissioned the first formal ‘ballet de cour’ or court ballet, Ballet de Polonaise in 1573 to honour the Polish ambassadors who were visiting Paris upon the accession of Henry of Anjou to the throne of Poland. And later along with her compatriot, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx commissioned Ballet Comique de la Reine 1581 which was the first court ballet that integrated poetry, dance, music and set design to convey a unified dramatic storyline.
In the late 17th century, terminology and vocabulary of ballet was then formalised and codified in French. French choreographer, dancer and composer Pierre Beauchamp codified the five positions of the feet and arms.
Famous ballet dancer and choreographer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687) often cast the King Louis XIV, a passionate dancer, in his ballets. Lully with Moliére, a French playwright created the comédie-ballet genre; a spoken play with intermission containing both music and dance. The first example was Les Fâcheux. Lully also created the tragédie en musique genre; French opera which was based on stories from Classical mythology or the Italian romantic epics, which covered nobility and grandness, and the stories may not necessarily have a tragic ending.
King Louis XIV who performed many of the popular dances himself, established the Academie d’Opera in 1669. The forerunner of the Paris Opéra Ballet, which paved the way for ballet as a profession. Ballet soon started to develop from the courts to theatre-stage performance-focused art form, although was initially associated with opera. Gradually, professional dancers were hired.
Before 1681, there were no women ballet dancers. Men danced the feminine roles. The first major woman dancer was Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo (1710 – 1770), who danced 1726 – 1751 and was one of the first dancers to wear slippers instead of heeled shoes and also the first woman to execute the entrechat quatre.
The 18th century was a period when ballet became an independent dramatic art form on par with the opera. Previously, ballets were only performed in between the acts of an opera. Several choreographers developed ballet as a story-telling medium, mainly still with mythology but addition of nobles and princesses, peasants and romantic rendezvous. The technical standards of ballet advanced and central to this was the work of Frenchman Jean-Georges Noverre (1727 – 1810). He argued that ballet should be technical but also emotional with simple and understandable pantomime and, unified plots with supporting scenery and music. The birth of Classical Ballet.
Ballet then spread to other nations. The Royal Danish Ballet (1748) and the Russia’s Imperial Ballet (1738), now known as Mariinsky Ballet, also formerly known as Kirov Ballet were founded.
In Russia, ballet expanded widely as the state decided to make ballet an official art form with centralised planning and the shrewd use of resources. Teachers from France and Italy were brought in. At Russia’s Imperial Theatres and ballet schools, the Italian pantomime and traditional court ballet of Louis XIV’s reign were not only conserved, but nurtured and evolved further.
Ballet reached a high level in Russia partly because it was the most popular form of entertainment among the Russian aristocrats whereas opera was number one among the nobility in western Europe.
Russians of all social strata have also long been obsessed with dancing. Young Russians saw ballet as the quickest route to national and international glory, and the state strongly supported the development of promising dancers.
Change – Romantic Ballet:
The 19th century was a period of substantial social change. Ballet shifted from the aristocrats that had dominated earlier periods to the growing middle class.
Romanticism or also known as the Romantic era, was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and a rejection of the Age of Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution, about 1760 to between 1820 and 1840, was a period of development which saw massive changes to the way people lived and worked. It was a time when the goods manufacturing moved from small shops or homes to large factories. People moved from rural areas to big cities to work. The movement focused on art, science, reasons, literary, music and rationality. Cities were expanding with people leaving the countryside and scientific reasoning had taken over from the old religious belief and superstition.
Romantics tried to escape industrialism and turned to idealised imagination and nature. Young artist wanted the freedom to express in an unconstrained and individual way. They rejected the original classical ideas of order, balance and harmony; and turned to human themes of tragedy, love and loss as a source of inspiration.
Romantic Ballet was created, focused on sensuality and spirituality. Preliminary dancing on toes with only satin ballet slippers darned at the tips of the toes became popular at this time. The romantic tutu, a calf-length, full skirt made of tulle, was introduced. It was at this time, most creation was danced by female dancers, and male dancers were no longer an equal star. Technical proficiency rose, lighter costumes to portray elaborate and difficult movements, greater leaps to portray lightness, removal of masks and headdresses to allow expressive face, arms became softer and rounder to create delicate and elegant feel and forward tilt to create the sylphlike look.
During the latter half of the 19th century, especially after 1850, the popularity of ballet flourish in Russia and Denmark although it was beginning to wane in France.
Masters such as August Bournonville (1805 – 1879), Enrico Cecchetti (1850 – 1928) and Marius Petipa (1818 – 1910) created great ballets in Russia. This made Russia the leading creative center of the dance world as ballet continued to evolve. When Frenchman Marius Petipa was appointed as the ballet master of the Mariinsky Theatre in 1871, he began to create some of the world’s most-loved ballets over four decades; The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere, and in collaboration with his deputy Lev Ivanov (1834 – 1901), they created Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Mikhail Fokine (1880 – 1942), Vaslav Nijinsky (1889 – 1950), Léonide Massine (1896 – 1979), Bronislava Nijinska (1891 – 1972) and George Balanchine (1904 – 1983) were all the products of the Imperial Ballet School, and began their dance careers at the Mariinsky Theatre, as did Tamara Karsavina (1885 – 1978), Anna Pavlova (1881 – 1931), Adolph Bolm (1884 – 1951), Alexandra Danilova (1903 – 1997), Lydia Lopokova (1892 – 1981) and countless others.
In the20th century, after the Russian Revolution 1905, many of Petipa’s choreographic notations were smuggled to the west and are still preserved and used to infuse modern ballet stagings.
In 1909, the Russian ballet moved to France, where the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev (1872 – 1929) rooted in Paris and toured throughout Europe, the United States and South America. It was recognised as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century where it transformed the future of ballet in the world. The company which was softly premiered in Russia brought together collaborations between artists, composers, choreographers, dancers, and fashion designers, with familiar names such as Picasso, Stravinsky, Balanchine, Nijinsky, and Chanel, among many others. It looked at both Russian and Western traditions in the form of stories, movements, music and design and turned them into one unity. The company’s famous principal choreographer was the original Fokine while his student Nijinsky emerged as the most prominent principal dancer.
The classical tutu, much shorter and stiffer than the romantic tutu, was introduced at this time to allow freedom of movement, reveal ballerina’s legs and show the difficulty of footwork and movements.
More new companies were formed worldwide including The Royal Ballet (1931), the San Francisco Ballet (1933), American Ballet Theatre (1939), the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1939), the New York City Ballet (1948), the National Ballet of Canada (1951).