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Marie Adelaide

Russian Ballet Dancers' Bodies

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I've noticed that dancers trained in the Russian method tend to have a different body type than those who are not.

In contrast to other methods, which tend to produce dancers with bodies that look like straight up-and-down "sticks," the Vaganova method generally produces dancers with a large ribcage and a small waist. Their legs are also more "curvaceous" (if you could ever say that about ballet dancers!)

I'm assuming the ribcage difference is because dancers trained in other methods are not told to extend the torso and protrude the ribs. But what can explain the legs? What does the Vaganova method do differently that causes this?

Marie- Adelaide

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Marie-Adelaide, welcome to Ballet Talk here at Ballet Alert! Online! :wub:

I'm not entirely sure whether it's the teaching in the Vaganova system that does what you've noted, but may well be the result of the pre-selection method used in admitting students to the Moscow and Petersburg schools. I've seen people who were trained in Vaganova, but were not put through the selection process. Their ribcages don't seem to be much different from anybody else's, ditto the legs.

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Vaganova dancers are not told that their ribs should protrude. They do, however, use their backs in a different way than other methods that affects the look of the upper body.

I'm not really sure what you mean about the legs...can you explain further? If you are referring to the curves produced by hyperextended knees, that is not a question of training but rather a characteristic of pre-selected body types.

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I can explain this. The ribcage protusion is because, vaganova dancers are trained to dance on a raked stage, therefore their epaulment is placed further back to counterbalance the tilt in the stage! This may make it appear as if they are sticking their ribs out, they are just placed far back. As for the legs, many vaganova teachers teach you to lock your hyperextension(if you have any, if i only did), and to pull up the legs as much as possible. Therefore, adding bulk to the thighs, and making them a little meatier. In this day and age, that is not as accepted in dance, but its the way of the past. You live you learn! Hope this helps!

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I do not agree with kirovboy's assessment of the Vaganova trained dancer's body. There is a lot more to it then what he has stated. They are not trained to dance with their weight further back than in other methods because of the raked stage. If this were the case dancers such as Baryshnikov, Makarova and others would have trained differently once they left Russia in order to stand up on stage. I assure you they did not. As for the ribcage protruding I would have to say that to someone trained in the Vaganova method as a teacher, dancers not trained in this way look as if their chests are sucken and they are falling forward all the time. It is all a matter of what one is accustomed to seeing! :wub: The training does not ask the dancers to

extend the torso and protrude the ribs
this I also assure you. The ribs are to be closed with the ribcage lifted and the chest opened, shoulders lowering into the middle back as the hips lift upward into the waistline.

The legs, yes, selection is part of the reason, but it is also the very slow training that helps to create this IMO, beautiful line of curves! Again, I do not agree with kirovboy on the size of the thighs being larger due to the training. I would have to say, please see Vaganova trained dancers in Russia prior to making such rash decisions. The female dancers there are quite petit in frame and muscular structure. The size of a muscle in directly related to genetics. If it is in the genetics to have big thighs...well then you will! yes, some of the men do have larger thighs but then again there are those who do not. It is all a matter of perspective I suppose because to me many dancers in the West look to have no muscles at all! :blink:

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My daughter trained with a former principle dancer from St. Petersburg for 2 years. She had to work very hard to please this teacher - often being yelled at and ending up in tears. After making a studio change because we relocated she is having to "correct" the very things that Kirovboy wrote about in his post. Her new instructor is also Russian but seems to be much more open to what is needed to succeed here in the US.

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I think that the physical characteristics which "Fille'smother" has drawn attention to are endemic throughout the ballet world today.

Historically, indeed until fairly recently, the Kirov roster of stars such as Ulanova, Kolpakova, Shelast, etc did not conform to this modern aesthetic of etiolation. Indeed the one dancer from the golden era of the Kirov Osipenko, who did actually look very much like the modern ballet dancer was somewhat of an oddity amongst her peers.

Ayupova is today the only principal within the Kirov whose body shape harks back to that old Kirov style or ballet physique which dominated the majority of the world ballet stage for the best part of the 20th century. In her the epaulement, ribcage do not look as protruding and hyperextended as that of say Vishneva or Zakharova because the whole techinique has been placed on a much less extreme pysique.

Also it's slightly wrong to lay the blame or onus on the Vaganova and Kirov tradition. This trend towards etiolation, and hyperextension was instigated by Balanchine, or rather advocated during the latter part of his career, and this gauntlet was taken up and refined by the french school. In dancers such as Platel, Guerin, Loudieres and in its greatest exponent Guillem this trend for length, curvature, hyperextension and etiolation have pretty much set the barre for female dancers around the world today.

The principals of the Vaganova technique revolve around the harmonious balancing out of weight throughout the entire torso, the principles of cause and effect. Epaulement is not a thrusting out but a gentle inclining to complement line, port de bras and movement.

The current trend we see on ballet stages all around the world is to do with the current aesthetic dominating ballet and of course the selection process which favours girls whose bodies are most likely to achieve this kind of facility.

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A decent hypothesis, Simon, and worth some discussion, but I should share with you my first thoughts on seeing Kolpakova on the first night of the Kirov's Raymonda in America(1964). Upon her entrance, this vision of an ideal Balanchine woman was cast - I could only think, "Same school, different interims, jolly close product!"

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VRS, believe me I know what im talking about. Old school Vaganova is the EPITOMY of what I have spoken of. Things are changing in this day and age, but unless you have lived through the Vaganova training I speak of, you would not understand. And yes, the teachers can be at times extremely abusive, demoralizing, and self esteem destroying. Its old school!

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A decent hypothesis, Simon, and worth some discussion, but I should share with you my first thoughts on seeing Kolpakova on the first night of the Kirov's Raymonda in America(1964).  Upon her entrance, this vision of an ideal Balanchine woman was cast - I could only think, "Same school, different interims, jolly close product!"

Dear Mel

Thank you. May I just ask though, and please do not take offence, but this was indeed a very very very very long time ago, indeed long before I myself was born . Now as a young pipsqueak upstart, I bow to the older generation, and your wonderful powers of recollection, as hazy and coloured by nostalgia as they are. BUT could you have perhaps embellished the memory somewhat due to the extreme antiquity of the sight of seeing Kolpakova? :devil:

Seriously though, how has the NYCB roster of ballerinas changed from the pre-Farrell era to the current aesthetic? Could this same change in technique and way it is presented find a parallel in the current Kirov crop of dancers?

And Kirov boy, two swallows do not a summer make. I was taught ballet by ex Royal dancers and stars whilst I was dancing and unfortunately you find some card-carrying psychopaths amongst any bunch of ex-"Stars". The ones who are the worst offenders are the ones who can never come to terms with the fact that their own lustrous careers are over, the ones who've moved on and want to continue their careers by imparting what made them great are the ones who are real teachers; not hazbeens facing their final most malleable audience.

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Kirovboy, vrsfanatic was trained to teach the Vaganova method at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, so her credentials are not in question. And fille'smom, there are good and bad teachers in every method, as Simon G has pointed out. When Vaganova is taught properly, its characteristics will not be exaggerated. Please do not judge the entire method by one bad teacher.

And nowhere is it written in the Vaganova syllabus that the teachers must demoralize or abuse the students.

Finally, "Russian" is not necessarily synonymous with "Vaganova," just as "American" is not necessarily synonymous with "Balanchine." I don't mean to snap or be offensive, but please everyone keep these distinctions in mind when speaking about ballet methods and teachers.

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this was indeed a very very very very long time ago, indeed long before I myself was born . Now as a young pipsqueak upstart, I bow to the older generation, and your wonderful powers of recollection, as hazy and coloured by nostalgia as they are. BUT could you have perhaps embellished the memory somewhat due to the extreme antiquity of the sight of seeing Kolpakova?

A decent observation, and a question I would ask of someone who described, for example, their first glimpse of Danilova. However, I am a pack rat, and have the programs for all the Kirov performances I saw that season. The Old Met was a marvellous place and afforded one the light to make notes or read a score. My notes from that performance survive. Here is from Act I Raymonda: Next to Kolpakova's name - "Look like D. Adams - dance warmer". From which I take it, I thought she looked like Diana Adams, but had a more approachable stage personality.

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this was indeed a very very very very long time ago, indeed long before I myself was born . Now as a young pipsqueak upstart, I bow to the older generation, and your wonderful powers of recollection, as hazy and coloured by nostalgia as they are. BUT could you have perhaps embellished the memory somewhat due to the extreme antiquity of the sight of seeing Kolpakova?

A decent observation, and a question I would ask of someone who described, for example, their first glimpse of Danilova. However, I am a pack rat, and have the programs for all the Kirov performances I saw that season. The Old Met was a marvellous place and afforded one the light to make notes or read a score. My notes from that performance survive. Here is from Act I Raymonda: Next to Kolpakova's name - "Look like D. Adams - dance warmer". From which I take it, I thought she looked like Diana Adams, but had a more approachable stage personality.

Mel! I was only joking, i hope you didn't take that remark too seriously. My slightly warped sense of humour gets me into no end of shenanigans and no mistake.

[snip - lest another misunderstanding arise]

Edited by Alexandra

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No, no, not at all! It's good to ask for resources. That's one reason I enjoy the archivist side of my "day job" so much. It's actually fun to trot out somebody's aide-memoire of 225 years ago, written on the back of a letter about something completely different. The front might be a tax receipt, but the back has a reminder to the carrier where the local Whig Party headquarters has moved to!

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I'vre always thought that very small differences, a nuance at the end of a phrase, the way the head adds an accent, and the conveyance and angles fromt he stage towards the audience can make a very large perceived difference in a dancer's body. So the artistics traditiona and raked staged coudl account for mcuh of the difference. Do you see the same difference with dancers from other regions who then went to study there?

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