Students at the School of American Ballet (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy School of American Ballet)

A Rundown of the Major Ballet Techniques

Vaganova

History: The legendary Russian ballerina and teacher Agrippina Vaganova combined elements of French, Italian and early Russian techniques to create this method. The syllabus is broken down into eight years of training—a slow, steady and deliberate progression.

Emphases: Use of the upper body and placement of the head. "Arms are not just for decoration," says Yuliya Rakova, a teacher at the Vaganova-based Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. "They support the jumps and turns, and have to be very expressive."

Affiliated company: Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia

Balanchine

History: George Balanchine, who trained at the Imperial Ballet School (beforeit was renamed the Vaganova Ballet Academy), developed a unique style that was based on his Russian roots but influenced by his adopted American home. "He didn't change the technique, but he stretched it and made it more modern-looking," says Susan Pilarre, faculty member at the School of American Ballet in New York City.

Emphases: Deep plié, the use of épaulement and keen musicality. "Beautiful arms and hands and the shaping and placing of the feet are important," says Pilarre. "Balanchine dancers can move quickly because they dance on the balls of their feet."

Affiliated companies: New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet

Bournonville

History: Developed by August Bournonville, a Danish dancer who also performed with the Paris Opéra Ballet, this technique has both Danish and French influences. It's the foundation of Bournonville's many famous ballets, such as La Sylphide and Napoli.

Emphases: Light, fast footwork and a quiet upper body. The head and shoulders follow the working leg, and jumps are strong and buoyant.

Affiliated company: Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark

Cecchetti

History: Established by Italian master teacher Enrico Cecchetti, this technique

is maintained in the U.S. by the Cecchetti Council of America, through which students and teachers can complete several grades of exams. There are planned exercises for each day, with a focus on anatomy.

Emphases: Coordination of the head and arms, with smooth transitions between steps. Students are encouraged to work both sides of their bodies equally.

Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)

History: RAD was developed in 1920 by a group of leading dance professionals, who created a series of exams to help raise the level of dance education among students and teachers. The syllabus is influenced by the Cecchetti and Vaganova techniques.

Emphases: Attention to detail, particularly in port de bras and épaulement. Arms tend to be held low and rounded.

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