Which style of ballet is right for your dancer?

By: Kelly Summers- Welch
NBS- TTP (Dip), A.I.S.T.D. (CSB) , R.T.S.-R.A.D., A.R.A.D. , P.A.A.

For every dance parent, enrolling their child in dance can be a difficult decision. What studio should they attend? What style will they like? Will they even go into class? How many classes a week do they need? Once you have selected a studio, how do you know what class to enrol them in? Most studio directors will recommend a variety of classes, however, I personally suggest new dancers begin with ballet or creative movement when first introducing them to the world of dance, but why?

Ballet is often referred to as the foundation of all technical dance forms. Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. By 1661, a dance academy had opened in Paris, and in 1681 ballet moved from the courts to the stage. This strong sense of nobility established ballet as a prestigious pastime and honorable hobby.

This legacy lives on even today. Ballet teaches poise, posture, confidence, discipline, musicality, and coordination, while promoting healthy activity and endurance. In addition, ballet addresses all three learning styles: Kinaesthetic, Visual and Audio, which makes it accessible for all.

Over the past 100 years, many dance educators and ballet masters across  Canada and the World have created syllabi’s aimed to help children as young as 4 build knowledge and vocabulary in classical ballet. These syllabi can also include examinations, which help children receive verbal and written feedback on their progress. Performed in front of a reputable examiner and often with live music (piano accompaniment) this annual event is an exciting, sometimes nerve-racking and prestigious day.

Now, which syllabus trains the best ballet dancers? This is often a question I receive as a ballet teacher. While attending the National Ballet School of Canada’s Teacher Training Program I received formal training under the Royal Academy of Dance (ofter referred to as  R.A.D.) and the Cecchetti Society of Canada. Through further studies, I trained in NBS Curriculum, Progressive Ballet Technique, and began loosely training under the Society of Russian Ballet and Vagonova Method. In short, I have trained in many forms of ballet and have used a variety of teaching methods with my students over the past 12 years. I continue to attend workshops with a variety of syllabi including Dance Masters of America, Associated Dance Arts for Professional Teachers and Performing Arts Educators of Canada.

Each method is unique in the way it was created and what it has to offer the ballet world. Each stylized use of the head, the position of the arm, or sequence of steps allows dancers to work on the core principles of ballet. As stated previously, ballet teaches poise, posture, confidence, discipline, musicality, and coordination. Dancers do not see greater improvement in these areas based on which method they study. Dancers will progress in these areas regardless of the method they train under if they are self-motivated, eager to improve and retain corrections from class to class.

To put it in non-dance terms, Ballet is a vocabulary composed of barre work, centre practice, small/medium allegro (small jumps,) grand allegro (big jumps,) pointe work and boy’s work- just like a language is composed of nouns, adjectives, and verbs. It doesn’t matter if a dancer learns these elements in Italian, Greek, French, English, or Swahili- each dancer will still learn the language of dance. Each syllabus provides a set of steps based on what its founders or board of directors sees suitable for the dancers’ age and ability.  Mastery of these steps allows them to proceed to the next level or grade of study.

So what does make the best ballet dancer? The most successful dancers on stage and in the studio all have one thing. Passion! A love for ballet is required for success. An appreciation for movement quality, a love of repetition and a healthy work ethic is what will make dancers successful. It is important to remember, each dancer’s success will be different and no two dancers can be judged on the same scale. In order to master the art of ballet, dancers need guidance and tutelage. Finding the right teacher(s) that will help your dancer reach their fullest potential are an asset. Look for a teacher that is certified, provides structure/discipline for your dancer while fostering their love of dance and nurturing their artistic merit. It can be easy to be wowed by a teacher’s performance career, however, it is important to find a teacher that has an understanding of the building blocks dancers need to be successful while offering a creative and inspiring way to compel these strategies. It is important to remember dancers need to build up to the Grand Allegro,  Fouetté Turns and Pointe Work which can take months and years to achieve.

Can dancers change between syllabi? In short yes, however, the process will take time. Dancers and parents do not need to be worried about changing syllabi’s, however it important to remember that a Grade 1 RAD exam requirements may not line up with the requirements of a Grade 1 ADAPT, Cecchetti and CDTA Exam. What does this mean? To start, dancers may need additional time to prepare for an exam.  Second, dancers may have to ‘repeat’ a grade or level in the new syllabi. This is to make sure dancers have the fundamentals before moving forward. Lastly, dancers have to be prepared to work hard. Picture it like this; switching styles means that dancers are watching the same movie just in a different language with subtitles. To begin, the brain will need extra time to process the information and translate it into something the body will understand. As time goes on, this transition will become quicker – eventually returning to their usual processing rate. This stage can be difficult and frustrating for the dancer but it is important for dancers to remain resilient.

As a final thought, each syllabus-  not matter its origin/roots- was created to build strong technical dancers. I strongly believe all dancers befit from ballet and that dancers who are looking to become professional or who wish to compete in the full-time competitive stream should be attending 2-4 ballet classes a week. Your studio owner and teachers will be able to best guide you on how to use ballet, in addition to additional styles, to create a well-rounded, strong and passionate dancer.

A detailed list of styles widely used across Canada can be found below/ on the website link:

ADAPT Syllabus Canadian Dance Teachers Association Cecchetti Society of Canada The Cecchetti Method PAECE Royal Academy of Dance Society of Russian Ballet

Associated Dance Arts for Professional Teachers (A.D.A.P.T.). –  ADAPT is a certified “dance syllabus” offering yearly examinations in the dance disciplines of Tap, Jazz, and Ballet. ADAPT represents an elite group of dance teachers who follow the ADAPT Syllabus and enter their students in the yearly examination process.
ADAPT dance teachers are leaders in quality dance training. They teach the love of dance and movement not only to the elite student but to the recreational dancer as well. ADAPT and it’s Syllabus System is taught by over 175 Canadian Dance Studios from coast to coast. (3)
Canadian Dance Teachers’ Association (CDTA)- CDTA is a nationally recognized body whose aims are to establish and maintain, throughout Canada, a formal non-profit organization of qualified dance teachers. Their mission is to promote friendship and the exchange of knowledge. The CDTA Syllabus was developed utilizing the training techniques from all the methods of ballet. The Ballet Division offers student examination from the Primary Grade to Advanced. (7)
Cecchetti Society of Canada- Cecchetti Canada is a student-focused, national organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Cecchetti Method of classical ballet and committed to the highest standards of training for dancers and teachers. (1) The Cecchetti Method of ballet is a style of classical, theatrical dance based on the teachings of the great Italian ballet master Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928). Born into a family of professional dancers, Maestro Cecchetti had a distinguished career as a principal dancer on the international scene before becoming a teacher of renown. He taught in Russia, Poland, Italy, and England and became the private instructor of Anna Pavlova and many other celebrated dancers. Cecchetti Canada is a student-focused, national organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Cecchetti Method of classical ballet and committed to the highest standards of training for dancers and teachers. The Canadian Branch of the Cecchetti Faculty of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing was founded in 1949 by Betty Oliphant, first ballet mistress of the National Ballet of Canada and co-founder with Celia Franca, of Canada’s National Ballet School. The Society was federally incorporated as the Cecchetti Society of Canada. In January 2011, the Cecchetti Society became independent from the ISTD and modernized the name to Cecchetti Canada in 2018. Cecchetti Canada is a founding member of Cecchetti International Classical Ballet (CICB). (2)

Performing Arts Educators of Canada – P.A.E.C. is an association established in Ontario by a network of dance professionals in 2000. Performing Arts Educators of Canada believes in developing strong programming in all areas of performing arts. As well, PAEC prides itself on high standards of ethical and professional conduct among its members in the arts community. Aims and Objectives-to provide leadership in programming, increase knowledge, enhance skills facilitating the training of members of the Association. To encourage a high standard of teaching practice. To provide progressive syllabi to its members and maintain an environment encouraging growth in all performing art forms. To invest financial resources on behalf of its members to further strengthen PAEC. programming, operations, and services. To encourage ethical and professional conduct of its members. (4)

Royal Academy of Dance- (R.A.D.) The Royal Academy of Dance is one of the world’s most influential dance education organizations. Our exams set standards in classical ballet worldwide and we are a global leader in dance education and Continuing Professional Development for dance. Founded in 1920 to set standards for dance teaching in the UK, today we have a presence in 79 countries, with 36 offices and approximately 14,000 members worldwide. We count more than 1,000 students in our teacher training programs and more than a quarter of a million students are being examined on our syllabi. We support our membership through the knowledge and expertise of our highly qualified staff and through conferences, workshops, courses and summer schools. (5)

Vaganova Method -Prior to her death in 1957, Russian ballet instructor, Agrippina Vaganova, made seminal worldwide contributions to the theory and practice of contemporary ballet training. By blending the best elements of the old imperial Russian style with more athletic movement, she developed what is now known as the Vaganova Method or System. Her method did not isolate the body into separate parts but viewed it as an integrated system. Students received precise corrections based upon anatomical knowledge. Hallmarks of the Vaganova Method is renown for its expressive fluidity of the arms in coordination with the upper body. The movement originates “from the body” rather than the appendages. Precision and breadth of movement, particularly in allegro work, are visible characteristics of the Vaganova trained dancer. Many of her pupils such as Galina Ulanova, Natalia Dudinskaya and Irina Kolpakova became important figures in Soviet ballet. Her published work “The Principles of Classical Dance” is an important text for ballet teachers to this day. The creative evolution of her ideas continue to this day and are widely used by training institutions and professional ballet companies throughout the world.  At the core of her method is the conviction by Vaganova that all theories must be enriched by the experience of teaching and new developments in artistic practice. The creative evolution of her ideas continue to this day and are widely used by training institutions and professional ballet companies throughout the world. (6)

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