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How Is the Vaganova System Different From the English RAD System?

Let's explore some of the differences in the way ballet is taught in England and Russia.

Let's explore some of the differences in the way ballet is taught in England and Russia.

RAD vs. Vaganova

Half a year ago, I started taking ballet lessons from a former Russian prima ballerina. I have gradually come to understand the Russian method based on the Vaganova system, which has produced so many top-notch ballerinas on the world stage.

It's not that I'm aiming to become a professional dancer—not at my age, anyway!—but it is a real eye-opener to study the Russian method and how it differs from the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) system.

Movement vs. Strength

The RAD system allows very young students—as young as three years old—to perform what looks like dance movements. But it does not focus on training the strength and flexibility that would directly build the foundation for classical ballet. It is more about playing and moving along with rhythm. The demand is minimal.

By contrast, the youngest students at Russian ballet schools, such as the exemplary Vaganova Ballet Academy, are seven years old—meaning, an age where they are ready to learn meaningful exercises in preparation for the rigor of classical ballet. The first-year students spend most of their time doing gymnastic exercises systematically designed to increase their core strength and flexibility so that their muscles are strong enough and their joints are flexible enough to handle the specific requirements of classical ballet, such as the “aplomb” and turnout. These exercises are almost unheard of in Hong Kong under the RAD system!

Instant Gratification vs. Slow-and-Steady Growth

The RAD system gives students (and parents) a sense of immediate gratification (and false impression) of being able to "perform," but this superficial way of training does not produce good dancers in the long run. The main focus is "doing the steps" (instead of the quality of the technique) and getting the certificates. As a result, you will find the majority of students trained under the RAD system to be unable to execute the basic steps with the right technique.

The specific muscles for specific movements are not properly engaged. There is generally a flawed “ballet stance.” When you look at how the bottom sticks out when students perform their movements, or how their shoulders roll forward without engaging the shoulder blades, or how the heel is not pointing down when doing tendu back, it is not just a question of not “looking right” (and for that matter, most students and teachers seem to turn a blind eye on that!). Such flaws in the basic stance of classical ballet are the result of a lack of proper training in the very early stage, which is then carried forth throughout the subsequent years without correction.

The wrong look or form inevitably leads to the wrong use of muscles. Not only is this detrimental to the learning of more advanced steps going forward, but it would also contribute to repeated strains and injuries as a result of muscle imbalance and compensation. This is not the right way to train dancers.

The Vaganova system is built in a systematic way, and the emphasis is on the correct usage of muscles through its specific requirements, such as the angle between the leg and the hip and the strict requirement for turnout. Through these demands, the muscles are properly strengthened, and the chances of injuries are actually reduced, contrary to popular misconception.

To parents and young children, the Vaganova system may look "boring" in the beginning because there is so much repetition of what seems to be simple “chores.” But it is much more systematic and contributes in every little step toward making a strong dancer. By contrast, young children taking RAD classes can easily get a “Distinction” on a piece of paper and perform on stage what looks like a “dance.” Even up until the higher grades in RAD, the emphasis on “dancy steps” overshadows the importance of real technique. Everybody knows that few people actually fail the RAD exams. But getting a “Merit” or “Distinction” does not say very much about the real skills and talent of a student.

Sure, there are occasionally a few students who stand out above the others due to their talent and physical attributes, but generally speaking, this kind of training lacks real substance, and in the long run, the majority of students will not be equipped to step on the highly competitive world stage.

En Face vs. En Dehors and En Dedans

To be a little more specific, under the Vaganova system, students learn very early on the proper positions on stage, namely, croisé and effacé, and are required to execute all center steps based on these directions. This compares with the RAD training, which requires most steps to be done en face, which is not commonly used on stage around the world because it presents the dancer in a flat and uninteresting angle.

Another main difference is that all exercises are done both en dehors and en dedans. In other words, the direction of movements are done first in one direction and then repeated in the reverse direction. This trains the body’s coordination and the use of the brain properly so that the student can move in all directions with ease. The RAD exercises do not always require this. These are just some of the differences between the Russian method and the RAD system.

© 2012 balletomanehk


Jenny on March 25, 2020:

I 'm an adult learner. I 've been doing ballet for 5 years and I 've tried both and I completeley disagree with the article about the RAD system! There are pros and cons in both but never experienced the disadvantages described in this artcile about the RAD system...

Mirella on July 16, 2019:

I have read this article . I am an Rad teacher originally brought up in the Russian school. I feel I must comment: the person who wrote the article has completely misunderstood what the RAD stands for. Firstly, it is not a training system. Exams are in place to help students and teachers measure an achievement. Teachers have to use their own knowledge to build up the technical and artistic points achievable at every stage. The RAD provides a SAFE syllabus aiming to EDUCATE pupils in a much broader sense than just strengthening or loosening a body. The syllabus aims to develope coordination , latéralisation rhythm and musicality imagination as well as a sense of style at every level. Graded examinations aim to give a general understanding of ballet to the non vocational pupil. The guidelines are also extremely clear regarding the understanding and the respect of children's physical limitations. In my understanding, the Vaganova does not take into consideration non vocational pupils. The loosening at all costs is unsafe. Both styles of teaching do not have the same aim and must not be compared.

Jo on May 27, 2019:

This is far too simplistic a view of the RAD methodology!

I am an RAD teacher and my jaw dropped at some of the statements in the above article.

The technical principles are built up safely over time, positions are not forced and the syllabus is inclusive. Children with physical conditions, who would be rejected from other training methods because they don’t meet certain criteria can participate and get a great deal from class. I’m not saying they will all become professional dancers, but what is wrong with taking class for the sheer enjoyment of it?

Technique is most definitely at the forefront of what we teach, Ports de Bras is not just “arms and head”, performance is key and many, many RAD students become professional dancers!

Larisss on April 17, 2019:

That is 100% true!

BalletNerd on February 24, 2019:

Yes! I grew up doing Cechetti but had been under the impression that RAD was better, so placed my child in RAD. Recently I took class alongside my 13yo. I was so shocked at how little she has been learning! What a waste of time and money. She can barely do anything that I could do at the same age, and she is far genetically superior to me. I feel like I've been completely duped.

TNeyman281 on December 27, 2018:

My goodness! I found this article to be accurate on many points although somewhat biased. I came to ballet in my fifties, after retiring. I studied with a Vaganova trained former Principal Dancer from a world class Company. He was raised by a Russian Prima Ballerina mother and Principal dancer father. He was never condescending towards other schools of ballet. In fact, I found him to be a humble, honest, respectful and powerful man who used great patience in training me. He loved ballet and shared his love and abundant talent with all his students.

Renae Rufus on December 18, 2016:

Thank you for writing this article!!! I totally agree!! Everything about the RAD syllabus is totally commercial most of the time.... all prep for exams, barely any for the stage!! I've witnessed and met WAY too many girls who've been taking RAD ballet classes 3-4 times a week since the age of 2 or 3, only to find at 18 that a career as a professional ballet dancer is quite unlikely. All that time and money going into those classes, and a majority of students just quit!

adult ballet student on February 28, 2016:

Does RAD teach you to hop on the platform of your pointe shoes? comparably, Vaganova teaches you to roll onto your platform? for example, rad says two feet, hop together into sous-sue, vaganova says, you roll up your standing foot (usually the foot behind) only then squeeze your thighs and place the working foot at front of the standing foot, finalizing a sous-sue?

anyone knows and clarifies please?

big_feet on September 11, 2015:

I must mention that I am not a ballet expert, but I have lived half of my life in Russia and now have a dancing daughter who is being trained in RAD. We live in the US. Before we even begin discussing the technical aspects of the two methods, one needs to separate them from the cultural differences which ultimately influence the training/teaching style as well as how it is applied today.

I can write a similar article about the method of teaching 7-10 year olds in the art of spelling. One may argue that asking a 1st grader to write an essay before they can actually spell is an absurd requirement. However, it is one that is practiced and is prevalent in the west. It is also one that is believed to develop creativity and ability to handle open ended tasks from an early age. I am a product of my upbringing, so when my daughter is allowed to spell WAS with an O, I feel the same way about it as when she is not being corrected in her ballet class. A lot has been written about the Asian approach to education, and one must understand that the Russian culture, despite the caucasian look of that country's inhabitants, is an Asian culture. It is one where mastering one's "kung fu" in its original meaning forms the basis of many activities at an early age, including ballet.

Ballet101 on August 16, 2015:

As a teacher in a major professional school, I can appreciate everyone's comments regarding their preferred method. As a Vaganova and Cecchetti based teacher with knowledge of the RAD method (I was on my way to be RAD certified as well, but backed out bc I disagreed with a lot of the principles), I see value in many methods and approaches. My opinion on RAD though is that it is not truly a method of classical ballet, but rather an approximation of it, and in it's new format, it is overchoreographed and lacking in foundation.

Unlike Cecchetti and Vaganova, there is no detailed, specific ports de bras, but rather "arms and heads". This is an overlooked element where one does not need a specific "body type" to develop.

Also in my opinion, Vaganova is obviously designed to build towards the classical repetoire with the end point being the Grand Pas de deux, and Cecchetti also leads towards this (although the style is more subtle with less use of plasticity). Obviously Bournanville and Balanchine techniques lead towards the works of those master choreographers and can fortify other techniques.

RAD however does not lead towards a true classical ballet end point (professional or recreational), nor does it give promising dancers a chance to move into more professional techniques--from my experience Cecchetti students have an easier time adapting to a professional or university ballet program then do RAD students, especially with the new work that is hard real BALLET, but rather balletically based dance.

Fiona Ellwood on April 04, 2015:

I was disappointed in this article, it is not just about the methodology, but actually more about the knowledge and effectiveness of the teacher. Clearly the author doesn't know about the prestigious Genee ballet competition, and the standard of work produced by RAD trained dancers. Saying that everything is trained en face is completely erroneous, just look at the new work! The advantage of the RAD syllabus is that it is designed for all and is in the hands of the teachers to figure out how to apply it. As we all know the syllabus is an examination syllabus and not a training methodology, so once again the author does not really understand what goes into the RAD training. To imply that it's instant gratification rewarding distinctions easily is obviously unaware that a percentile grade is included, and the students know it, there is a great difference in a student who receives 75% and 95%. So many criteria and expectations are included in the examination syllabus! Taking into consideration, posture, technique, musicality and performance quality. Correct ballet posture and correct technique is imperative whatever school you may follow, as well as safe practice, with an understanding of anatomy and physiology. Agrippina Vaganova did not have the knowledge or technology that we have today, and although her work was clearly a masterpiece, I have over the years seen some sadly very poorly trained Vaganova students, as well as dancers who were trained in Cecchetti RAD and other methods who were really good, and not so good. In this time, we know as dance educators that cross training and exposure to different genres of dance is imperative to training a 'whole' dancer who is versatile and able to step on the stage in a pure classical ballet, or a more contemporary piece.

I wish the author had researched a little deeper before making such a broad sweeping declaration about Vaganova versus RAD.

I would love some feed back!

Bianca on October 17, 2014:

Hi everybody

I was trained in the Cecchetti (Italian) method as a child, which is based on a very well thought out progression of exercises to produce a fully integrated dancer with great ballon ("jumpiness"), fast footwork and beautiful lyrical arm lines (with a lot of work in effacee and croise lines).

Since then, I have taken RAD professional level exams, qualified as a Cecchetti style teacher, taken Vaganova method classes, and did quite a bit of self study on the Vaganova method, because, as a newly qualified teacher, I wanted to know how the training differered from what I knew already.

My conclusions are:

All methods (Bournonville, Cecchetti, RAD, Vaganova) can and does produce high quality dancers, but it depends on two major things: the teacher and the student.

Good teachers teach in an integrated way, training both technique, perseverance, beauty, grace, dyamic movemement, and the list goes on. Good teachers teach WAY BEYOND any given syllabus. Syllabi exist as benchmarks and training guides.

Good dancers are created by pupils that absorb and apply the corrections, who have good physiques, who possess natural performance talent, who are musical (not just rhythmical),and who put in the hours (and hours and hours).

Most professional dancers today have cross trained in Pilates and with teachers from the other dancing styles, and most professional dancers can adapt to any style of choreography, regardless of what foundational training they had.

Happy dancing!

Anonymous on October 08, 2014:

I think both methods are overall great.

Liz Alfonso on September 27, 2014:

It is clearly seen that the woman who wrote this article has never taken a class with a good teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance. Plus they do not know in the least the system.

States means having to take ballet classes. That does not give you a real perspective and no knowledge on the differences from one system to another.

Throughout my 30 years of experience in ballet, having taken System Royal Academy of Dance, Cuban, Mexican and Vaganova system assumes that the Russian system (Vaganova) is wonderful and is the mother of all methodologies, but I thoroughly studied system and Royal Academy of Dance and everything depends on the teacher and the school where you are studying, is Vaganova system of teachers who spend their lives and injuring master students who have taken very first Royal dancers. Understand that it is a matter of teachers and students.

Think before you write anything one should research and then talk. One must learn all the best.

:) on September 18, 2014:

The comments made me laugh...

Let me just say this: I started my training with Russian teacher. I tried briefly the RAD courses...could not stand it... Agree with the "Anonymous" person above: The Russian system "makes other forms of ballet look fairly ridiculous in comparison"... Cannot stop laughing... Like I'd ever care to get A1 or A2 certificate... I will not waste my money and time to do that...If you want to do that, fine with me...

kaye on September 14, 2014:

And what I love about RAD is it accepts any body type and give a chance for both those who have no intentions of becoming a professional and those who wants to pursue a career as a professional ballet dancer to experience and enjoy the art of ballet . Every ballet technique has its own pros and cons. Personally, I prefer RAD. and you're wrong when you said that they don't take adult dancers seriously because I'm already 36 y/o and doing Advance 1 and 2 (the new syllabus) and dancing on pointes. From what I've read I can tell that you haven't done RAD long enough to appreciate it or to realize that it is actually difficult as you progress, our exams are very technical. There's a difference between looking perfectly turned out and being actually turned out. That's what RAD taught me. During exams the examiner is not looking for how high your extensions are or how turned out you are. Turn outs can be cheated with the right kind of costume, but in our exams they really check if you are perfectly correct. They don't care if your legs are not above 90 degrees just as long as they can see that your hip placement is correct and that when you're doing a grand battements you're not using your upper body to bring that leg up but your abdominal strength. I've finished my Advance 1 exams and I'm happy to say that I passed. It was difficult given my age (35 at that time) and to think I was using the old syllabus. In 2 years time I shall be taking the Advance 2 exam (new syllabus). From what I've seen I'm gonna need to really work on it. Did you also know that if you get high distinction in advance 2 exam you can get the solo seal exam whuchbis even harder

kaye on September 14, 2014:

Oh wow! This is so far the most biased article I've seen in regards to ballet. Balletohmanehk you're not very objective in in this article. May I ask how long did you do RAD? Because if you had stayed long enough to reach the level of Advance 1 or Advance 2 your opinions might probable change. I'm 36 y/o and is on level Advance 2, in this level technique is supposed to be instinctive already and expression (which is the main purpose of dance to begin with) comes in to play. Vaganova does produce strong, flexible, highly athletic dancers but personally it gives off the feeling that extensions are more important than feeling the dance. It has become more acrobatic than artistic which is not the main goal of ballet. And by the way, RAD has already updated their syllabus so if you're going to diss RAD please check it out first. I highly agree with Narielle's post. Here's someone who is not at all biased.

balletomanehk (author) on September 10, 2014:

It gives me immense pleasure to see how much interest and heated debate this article has generated, even after years I have penned it. I appreciate the comments from all of you, except for those with personal attacks, especially attacks that try to belittle and invalidate what an adult ballet student and ballet aficionado has to say.

I can tell you that at the time of writing, I felt a kind of personal gratification that I, as an adult student at a "mature" age, was still taken seriously to be taught to the strictest principals of classical ballet, whereas when taking class under the RAD system, adults generally were not treated as seriously. Now, don't get me wrong, most of the teachers I've had instill a lot of passion in their adult students and encourage them to keep trying. But there is a point where they'd stop pushing for the "correct" way. You may argue there isn't a correct way, but at least when it comes to muscle training and placement, there should be. Now, some of you mentioned the issue of good teacher. That is exactly the point with the RAD system. The quality and attitude of the teacher make a huge difference in the results. There is actually a lot of leeway under the RAD syllabus for the teachers to interpret and impart their knowledge to the students. By contrast, any Vaganova-trained teacher can be expected to possess a very high standard of knowledge and performance ability.

Now, an update: I have since left the Russian teacher and have studied under other teachers. In fact, I have even taken class under the new RAD Major syllabus and found it rather satisfying. The revamped RAD syllabus "makes more sense" and is also more challenging--a good thing!

I do agree that the RAD system is more tolerant of different body types, as one of you pointed out. Under the Vaganova system, the students "chosen" already have the "ideal physique" to be trained as a professional. By contrast, the RAD system's non-Major syllabus is geared toward the recreational dance student. So there lies the major difference.

I am sure for as long as the art of ballet exists, there will always be arguments on which system of training is the best. Well, I just want to update everyone of you that I am observing this debate as an outsider now, as I do not take side one way or another, having "retired" from taking class after a major surgery. So keep your interesting comments coming, and thanks for entertaining me.

I remain,

Your Balletomanehk

Lauren on September 10, 2014:

As I dance at a ballet school that works with mainly the RAD ballet syllabus I feel very offended and believe that you are bagging the RAD syllabus! You have made good points, but when you has good teachers these 'issues' in your eyes do not occur. When comparing things make sure you are not biest towards one side.

A.M. on September 09, 2014:

Fonteyn also was a regular at Volkova's in London when rehearsals allowed.To my knowledge she never did any RAD. After she became president much changed And Nureyev worked with her on the men's syllabus. Fonteyn also ,if she knew you as a professional , told one to only use the syllabus as a guideline.

However,in the beginning the RAD was to try to keep the teachers on the same page so that not just any person could open a school in England without some sort of " degree"or certificate.

Cat on September 09, 2014:

Sorry if my english is bad!! My first language is not english! :)

Any way all I just sayed was in a very sweet tone, no intenssions to fight!!

Cat on September 09, 2014:

I'm a RAD girl since i was very Young.

I think Vaganova is an excellent school, and it makes really strong dancers, but the only way to get done Russian Techince at its best way its having a "russian body", because their method is based on russians biotypes: long legs, hiperextended knees, long arms and neck, hyperflexibility; they must use the music in different ways tan other biotypes so that comes the RAD, to add some others kind of bodys.

Thanks to de RAD people with all kind of biotypes can do ballet. RAD is everywhere in every ballet schools, professionals and non-professionals. I'm not discussing wich school is better, every school is better for a specific type of person, life, body, culture.

So, please, if you are going to talk about the differences between one and other just notice that this kind of information MUST be delivered in an OBJECTIVE WAY.

You just saw how i talk very good about Russian method and as I sayed at the beginning i'm a PROUD RAD GIRL.

RAD or English Method and Vaganova or Russian Method are JUST diferents techniques, but both of them genereates great dancers. THANKS TO THEM whe can have diferents kind of dancers, how boring would be to see ballets in the world just with russian or just with english method!

Just, please, please you must read information about both and then write, talk, sing, dance. But INFORM yourself.

Anonymous on September 09, 2014:

I appreciate this article. It's nice to see someone who is seeing the russian method more correctly than some. The Russians have put together a very sophisticated system in instructing. What most dancers in the west haven't seemed to grasp is that their system is very much thought out and designed (there is a very good reason for everything they do with their students). From the comment above, one reader brings up the argument that the RAD plays soft with their students in order to sustain their self confidence and keep them interested in ballet. Which calls my question, what will happen with those little bun heads when they discover what ballet really is and what they must sacrifice in order to have it? They will be overwhelmed and realize that this whole time they have been doing things incorrectly and now they have to retrain all the muscles in their body to do something very different from what they've been taught. could do it correctly from the beginning. which is harder, I'm aware. But who said that this field of work was supposed to be easy? those dancers need to understand that this isn't going to be fun and games all the time. Of course we must enjoy it. But we can not let it get in the way of the work. One of my teachers is an eight year graduate of the Perm Ballet collage. One day when he was coaching me on a variation he said, "You have to keep something in mind. The audience doesn't care how you feel. they don't care if you had a bad day, if you're sore. They don't care. They paid money to see you fall in love with juliet regardless of whether or not you actually do." What I'm saying is that the russians know that they are performers. And as a performer it is their job to deliver.

Michelle Jericevich on September 09, 2014:

Tamara Karsavina is one of the founders of the RAD and we still have her syllabus.

Andreja on September 09, 2014:

I'm totally agree with Narielle!

Narielle on September 09, 2014:

This is an interesting perspective to take on the issue, but one that I feel is rather biased.

I believe that neither is inherently better or worse than the other, but merely use different approaches.

You say that Vaganova gives students a foundation in body strength and flexibility from which to base further dance study upon through the use of repetitive 'chores'. As effective as this may be, it probably doesn't excite the average 7-10 year old who in this day an age (as much as it is deplorable) is all for 'instant gratification'. If you lose the interest of one that young, what hope do you have that they will continue to dance?

Perhaps it is useful for adult students who wish to undertake repetitive movements for improvement, but how many adult dancers are you hoping will dance professionally?

On that note, RAD allows students a sense of achievement and fosters in them an interest in dance and a chance for them to emulate those amazing dancers that they look up to. Without an enjoyment of the art, how do you expect children to put in the hours and effort required to improve their dancing. Your comments about the RAD being mostly en face, may be applicable to some of the younger levels, when it is easier for them to follow a teacher or look at themselves in a mirror if facing forward. However, this changes as children get older, and both en dedans and en dehors are also required.

When you say that flaws in technique and style are overlooked, are you generalising that there is a flaw in the system, or a flaw with individual teachers that you know?

I find I am hard pressed to believe (not knowing any of either) that both competent Vaganova or RAD teachers at an elite level would be willing to overlook glaring technical issues in someone's dancing.

The Vaganova system can be harsh, but it's methods do produce some amazingly talented individuals. Does this come at a cost to individuality and interpretation though?

Or does the potential emotional expression in RAD result in underdeveloped technique?

On your comment about the Vaganova method minimising injury risk, Ballet, by it's sheer movement requirements is detrimental to the body. Humans have evolved/are designed to be bipedal, but not to the extent that encourages turnout, fosters landing with turnout, hyperextension and so on. The prevention of injury stems from education and body strength., physiotherapists and other health professionals aim to educate dancers and teachers about how to minimise strain on the body, but this is by no means limited to one dance teaching style or another.

Perhaps a mix of teaching styles may be necessary?

These are merely my views on a couple of the issues that you have raised in your article, and is by no means the truth.

It may be seen as hypocritical of me, but I believe that you should research further into both teaching styles from more than the perspective of a mere student and self-styled 'balletomane' before making comments that may sway gullible parents, adults or otherwise into making potentially uninformed decisions.

However, I applaud you for taking up ballet, it really is an amazing art/sport/skill/hobby/life :)

balletomanehk (author) on September 09, 2014:

When Margot Fonteyn was eight years old, she took ballet lessons from the Russian George Goncharov in Shanghai. Later she studied in London with the Russian teacher and dancer Seraphima Astafieva. She was also coached by Tamara Karasavina to perfect her skills and artistry.

Michelle Jericevich on September 08, 2014:

What a terrible article, and most incorrect on both methods.

I am RAD and i just completed the teachers seminar at the Vaganova Academy this June in St. Petersburg. Get your facts right.

Margot Fonteyn was RAD just to name one Prima Ballerina.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on January 31, 2014:

This is quite an interesting and informative article on the Vaganova technique of learning ballet. I enjoyed reading this.

Marcus Ampe on April 20, 2013:

In the Vaganova technique you have the different co-ordinations with head-arm-body lines, with never such stretched out arms as in the RAD technique = more fluid lines.

The relevés are also more rolling onto point and not jumping, bringing the foot underneath as in the English and American technique.