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From Nureyev to Zakharova: The Legacy of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School and Its 100 Lessons in Classical Ballet

100 Lessons in Classical Ballet: The Eight-Year Program of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School

If you are interested in learning more about classical ballet, one of the most comprehensive and authoritative books on this subject is 100 Lessons in Classical Ballet by Vera S. Kostrovitskaya. This book presents the complete eight-year curriculum of Leningrad's famed Vaganova Choreographic School, which trained some of the most brilliant dancers of the 20th century, such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov, and Makarova. In this article, we will explore what this book is about, why it is important, and what you can learn from it.

100 Lessons In Classical Ballet: The Eight-Year Program Of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School

The history of the Vaganova Choreographic School

The Vaganova Choreographic School is one of the oldest and most prestigious ballet schools in the world. It was founded in 1738 by Empress Anna Ivanovna as the Imperial Ballet School, and later renamed after Agrippina Vaganova, a legendary dancer and teacher who revolutionized ballet pedagogy in the 1920s and 1930s. Vaganova created a unique system of teaching that combined the best elements of the French, Italian, and Russian schools, while emphasizing anatomical correctness, musicality, expressiveness, and harmony of movement. She also wrote a seminal book called The Fundamentals of Classical Dance, which outlined her method and principles.

Vaganova was not only a great teacher, but also a mentor and inspiration for many generations of dancers and teachers who followed her footsteps. Some of her most famous students include Marina Semenova, Galina Ulanova, Natalia Dudinskaya, Konstantin Sergeyev, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Irina Kolpakova, Altynai Asylmuratova, and Ulyana Lopatkina. Some of her most prominent successors as teachers include Vera Kostrovitskaya, Fyodor Lopukhov, Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Gusev, Natalia Dudinskaya, Konstantin Sergeyev, Olga Moiseyeva, Ludmila Safronova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Inna Zubkovskaya, Natalia Bessmertnova, Marina Vasilieva, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, and many others.

The principles of the Vaganova method

The Vaganova method is based on a set of principles that guide the development of a dancer from beginner to professional level. Some of these principles are:

  • Progression: The training is divided into eight years (or grades), each with its own syllabus and objectives. The difficulty and complexity of exercises increase gradually from year to year, building on the previous knowledge and skills. The exercises are also arranged in a logical order within each class, starting with simple and preparatory movements and ending with more advanced and challenging ones.

  • Coordination: The training aims to develop the coordination of the whole body, as well as the coordination of different parts of the body, such as the head, arms, legs, torso, and feet. The exercises are designed to teach the dancer how to move with grace, balance, and harmony, while maintaining a clear and expressive alignment of the spine, neck, and head.

  • Turnout: The training emphasizes the importance of turnout, which is the outward rotation of the legs from the hips. Turnout is essential for classical ballet, as it allows the dancer to perform a wider range of movements, such as extensions, jumps, turns, and poses. The exercises are designed to strengthen and stretch the muscles that support turnout, while avoiding forcing or injuring the joints.

  • Plie: The training focuses on the plie, which is the bending and straightening of the knees. Plie is the basis of all ballet movements, as it provides the power, elasticity, and control for jumps, turns, and steps. The exercises are designed to teach the dancer how to execute a correct and deep plie, while maintaining a stable and upright posture.

  • Port de bras: The training pays attention to the port de bras, which is the movement of the arms. Port de bras is an integral part of ballet expression, as it conveys the mood, character, and intention of the dancer. The exercises are designed to teach the dancer how to move the arms with fluidity, elegance, and clarity, while coordinating them with the rest of the body.

  • Pointe work: The training introduces pointe work, which is dancing on the tips of the toes. Pointe work is a distinctive feature of classical ballet, as it creates an illusion of lightness, grace, and ethereality. The exercises are designed to prepare the dancer for pointe work by strengthening and stretching the feet and ankles, while developing balance and stability.

The structure of the eight-year program

The eight-year program of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School consists of four main subjects: classical dance (or ballet), character dance (or folk dance), historical dance (or court dance), and duet (or pas de deux). Each subject has its own syllabus and objectives for each year. Here is a brief overview of what each subject covers in each year:


Classical Dance

Character Dance

Historical Dance



The basics of ballet technique: positions of feet and arms; plies; tendus; degages; rond de jambes; battements; releves; sautes; echappes; balances; ports de bras.

The basics of folk dance: steps; hops; stamps; claps; turns; polka; mazurka; waltz.

The basics of court dance: bows; courtesies; minuet; gavotte.

No duet.


The development of ballet technique: glissades; jetes; assemblees; sissonnes; pas de bourree; pas de chat; grand battements; pirouettes en dehors; arabesques.

The development of folk dance: galop; tarantella; czardas; Russian dance.

The development of court dance: pavane; allemande; sarabande.

No duet.


The improvement of ballet technique: frappes; fondues; developpes; attitudes; rond de jambes en l'air; grand rond de jambe; fouettes en dedans; pirouettes en dedans.

The improvement of folk dance: Spanish dance; Hungarian dance; Polish dance.

The improvement of court dance: chaconne; rigaudon.

No duet.


The refinement of ballet technique: adagio (slow movements); petit allegro (fast movements); batterie (beats); grand allegro (big jumps); entrechats (crossed beats); brises (broken beats); cabrioles (capers); tours en l'air (turns in the air); pointe work for girls.

The refinement of folk dance: Georgian dance; Moldavian dance; Ukrainian dance.

The refinement of court dance: gigue; bourree; passepied.

Introduction to duet: basic positions and holds; simple lifts and supports; promenades and turns.


The perfection of ballet technique: variations (solo dances); grand pas (group dances); coda (final section); fouettes en dehors (whipped turns outward); pirouettes a la seconde (turns in second position); pointe work for boys.

The perfection of folk dance: Greek dance; Romanian dance; Bulgarian dance.

No historical dance.

The development of duet: more complex lifts and supports; fish dives and planks; fouettes and tours.


The mastery of ballet technique: more difficult variations and grand pas; multiple pirouettes; beats in the air; pointe work with one hand support.

No character dance.

No historical dance.

The improvement of duet: more advanced lifts and supports; overhead lifts and throws; fouettes with changes of direction; tours with changes of leg position.


The artistry of ballet technique: expression, musicality, style, and interpretation of different ballets and roles.

No character dance.

No historical dance.

The refinement of duet: more artistic lifts and supports; counterbalances and twists; fouettes with changes of leg position; tours with changes of direction.


The professionalism of ballet technique: preparation for stage performance, audition, and career.

No character dance.

No historical dance.

The perfection of duet: more virtuosic lifts and supports; acrobatic elements; fouettes with changes of direction and leg position; tours with changes of direction and leg position.

The benefits of the Vaganova method

The Vaganova method is widely recognized as one of the most effective and comprehensive systems of ballet training in the world. It has many benefits for dancers who follow it, such as:

  • Technique: The Vaganova method develops a solid and versatile technique that allows dancers to perform a wide range of movements with precision, strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance. The Vaganova method also teaches dancers how to use their whole body as a harmonious unit, rather than isolating different parts. This creates a smooth and elegant quality of movement that is characteristic of the Russian style.

  • Artistry: The Vaganova method cultivates the artistic potential of dancers by encouraging them to express their emotions, personality, and individuality through movement. The Vaganova method also exposes dancers to different styles and genres of ballet, from classical to contemporary, from romantic to dramatic, from abstract to narrative. This helps dancers to develop their versatility, creativity, and adaptability as artists.

  • Injury prevention: The Vaganova method promotes the health and safety of dancers by teaching them how to move with anatomical correctness, alignment, and balance. The Vaganova method also trains dancers to be aware of their own body and its limitations, as well as how to warm up, cool down, stretch, and recover properly. The Vaganova method also provides a gradual and progressive training that respects the natural development and maturation of the dancer's body.

The legacy of the Vaganova method

The Vaganova method has left a lasting legacy in the world of ballet, both in Russia and abroad. It has produced some of the most celebrated dancers, teachers, choreographers, and directors in ballet history, who have influenced and enriched the art form with their talent, vision, and innovation. Some examples are:

  • Dancers: Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Irina Kolpakova, Altynai Asylmuratova, Ulyana Lopatkina, Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, and many others.

  • Teachers: Agrippina Vaganova, Vera Kostrovitskaya, Fyodor Lopukhov, Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Gusev, Natalia Dudinskaya, Konstantin Sergeyev, Olga Moiseyeva, Ludmila Safronova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Inna Zubkovskaya, Natalia Bessmertnova, Marina Vasilieva, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, and many others.

  • Choreographers: Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, Michel Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska, George Balanchine, Leonid Lavrovsky, Yuri Grigorovich, Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko, John Neumeier, Roland Petit, Maurice Bejart, William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and many others.

  • Directors: Sergei Diaghilev, Nikolai Sergeyev, Vladimir Vasiliev, Yuri Grigorovich, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Boris Eifman, Valery Gergiev, Makhar Vaziev, and many others.


In conclusion, 100 Lessons in Classical Ballet by Vera S. Kostrovitskaya is a valuable and informative book that offers a comprehensive and detailed overview of the eight-year program of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about classical ballet and the Vaganova method. It is also a useful reference for teachers and students who want to follow or improve their ballet training. By reading this book, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the history, principles, structure, benefits, and legacy of the Vaganova method.


Here are some common questions and answers about the book and the Vaganova method:

  • Where can I buy the book? You can buy the book online from Amazon or other online retailers. You can also find it in some libraries or bookstores.

  • Who is the author of the book? The author of the book is Vera S. Kostrovitskaya (1915-2003), a renowned Russian ballet teacher and pedagogue. She was a student of Agrippina Vaganova and later became her assistant and successor as the director of the Vaganova Choreographic School. She also taught at the Bolshoi Ballet School and the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. She was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of Friendship of Peoples for her contribution to ballet education.

  • Who is the translator of the book? The translator of the book is Oleg Briansky (born 1933), a former Russian ballet dancer and choreographer. He studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School and later danced with various companies in Europe and America. He also founded his own ballet school in New York and wrote several books on ballet.

  • What are some other books on the Vaganova method? Some other books on the Vaganova method are: The Fundamentals of Classical Dance by Agrippina Vaganova; The Science of Dance Training by Vera Kostrovitskaya; Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition by Catherine E. Pawlick; Vaganova: A Dance Journey from Petersburg to Leningrad by Vera Krasovskaya; The Art of Teaching Classical Ballet by Olga Moiseyeva; The Vaganova Method: The Science Behind The Artistry by Peggy Willis-Aarnio.

State Ballet School in Beijing; The Tokyo Ballet School in Tokyo; The Royal Danish Ballet School in Copenhagen; The Paris Opera Ballet School in Paris; and many others.

Thank you for reading my article on 100 Lessons in Classical Ballet: The Eight-Year Program of Leningrad's Vaganova Choreographic School. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know. I would love to hear from you.? 71b2f0854b


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