Basic Principles of Classical Ballet – A brief review

When I started ballet again, there were often times when I vaguely recalled movements but didn’t know exactly how to execute them. And there were movements that were totally new to me, like the more advanced jumps, such as cabrioles. At first I just searched them on Youtube, but it was difficult to find exactly what I was looking for, or the videos didn’t break down the steps enough.

The student side of me needed a textbook, something that had all the explanations compiled in one place. That’s where Basic Principles of Classical Ballet by Agrippina Vaganova came in. It’s a small book, about 150 pages long, written by the founder of the Vaganova method of ballet herself.

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This book has illustrations and step-by-step descriptions for how to carry out pretty much every movement I’ve encountered in ballet class. One thing I struggle with is knowing where my arms are supposed to be, and the book gave me a better idea of which positions to hold to arms in for different moves. Also, if you’ve never studied French before, this book can help you learn ballet terminology. Here’s the first page of the table of contents:

Movements are organized into categories like battements, jumps, and turns.
Movements are organized into categories like battements, jumps, and turns.

One criticism I have is that in the illustrations, the dancer’s skirt often makes it hard to tell which leg is in front or back. The following picture is straightforward, but some of the other illustrated steps, especially those in croisé or effacé, are complicated by the skirt.

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Finally, I want to say that this book is best used as a supplement. You can’t learn the steps just by reading and looking at the illustrations; it’s way too hard to follow that way. But it’s really useful to study after class and make sure you have the technique down for a movement you’ve touched on in class before. Happy reading!

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