The Vaganova Method is a ballet technique and training system developed by the Russian teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951). This system derived from the teaching methods of the old Imperial Ballet School (today the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet) under the Premier Maître de Ballet Marius Petipa throughout the mid to late 19th century, though mostly throughout the 1880s and 1890s. It fused the romantic style of the French ballet and dramatic soulfulness of the Russian character with the athletic virtuosity that characterizes the Italian school.
It was Vaganova who perfected and cultivated this form of teaching the art of classical ballet into a workable syllabus. Her Fundamentals of the Classical Dance (1934) remains a standard textbook for the instruction of ballet technique. This technique is one of the most popular techniques today.
The training system is designed to involve the whole body in every movement, with equal attention paid to the upper body, legs and feet. Vaganova believed that this approach increases consciousness of the body, thus creating a harmony of movement and greater expressive range. As a dancer, Vaganova was lauded for her strong jumps and elegant technique, but she wasn’t an emotionally expressive dancer. This criticism influenced the marriage of intricate footwork and artistic expression that encapsulates her technique.
Early training focuses on epaulement, or the stylized turning of the shoulders and body, which is partnered with the development of total stability and strength in the back to produce harmonious coordination of the body and continuity of movement. This core of strength enables consistently precise, easy movement of the body; the training in epaulement, in turn, instills in the dancer an intuitive anticipation of how best to use every part of his or her body to evoke breathtaking results, right down to the hands and eyes.
“Vaganova épaulement is characterized by the harmonious shapes attained by the torso, arms, head and even direction of the eyes,” says Edward Ellison, the artistic director of Ellison Ballet–Professional Training Program in NYC who studied pedagogy at the Vaganova School. Focusing on clear épaulement not only builds strong technique, but also helps dancers grow stylistically. The arms should always relate clearly to the positions and coordinate with the movement of the legs.
Vaganova incorporated a clear progression of difficulty in class. She was extremely detail-oriented, to the point of being obsessive. Building strength meant repetition, repetition, repetition. The training regime for the Vaganova method is complex and rigorously planned, to produce a clean, virtuoso technique. Due to its strictly codified training system, the Vaganova method is widely considered to be injury-free, if taught correctly.
Precision. Quiet power. Controlled strength. Regal carriage. Vaganova-trained dancers are easy to spot: their technique is deeply internalized and their bodies naturally breathe classical movement—a result of years of highly structured class.