Character Dance, or Danse de caractère. Any national or folk dance, or a dance based on movements associated with a particular profession, trade, personality, or mode of living.
Leave it to ballet’s dictionary maven, Gail Grant to come up with a one-sentence definition for character dance. (It’s not as easy as it looks, people.) I recently encountered another approach to summing up this sometimes ambiguous component of dance when I viewed the Vagnova Ballet Academy’s Character Dance Class DVD (a title on loan to me via KineticFlix DVD mail-rental service).
“Many times in a classical ballet performance, some movements seem not to belong to classical ballet, those are Character movements.”
It’s one line in a short essay from Character Dance teacher and former Mariinsky soloist, Yelena Sherstnieva, who has instructed the 2006 graduating class featured in this DVD. Sherstnieva, explaining that “the Character dance will exist as long as the Classical Ballet will exist,” goes on to describe the greater freedom of Character dancing as compared to Classical Ballet, as well as its benefits to the student (works the joints, flexibility of the body and back, development of rhythm and syncopation), and its importance in Ballet (distinguishing ballets from one another).
If you are hoping to learn more about Character Dance or methods for teaching it, it may be important for you to know that the above is the extent of instructional guidance you’ll get from this 36-minute DVD.
What the disc DOES provide is a finely executed series of advanced Character barre and centre exercises. There’s a Mazurka-style plié, an Aragonese Jota-style (Spanish) rond de jambe à terre, a Russian Apple Dance for the guys, a Spanish adagio for women set to the Carmen Habanera, and more at the barre. Plus, there’s 14 centre variations that cover the Mazurka, Hungarian Czardas, Spanish and Middle Eastern dances by choreographers such as Petipa, Ivanov, Folkine, and Grigorovich.
While it is more diligently studied in other countries, particularly Russia, Character dance instruction is conspicuously absent or minimal even in top American ballet schools. Even if you do not systematically teach Character dance at your school, the attention to detail demonstrated by the Vagnova Ballet Academy graduates in this DVD displays the richness of the vocabulary and usefulness of its inclusion in a ballet curriculum.
Bottom Line: Any teacher of ballet will be inspired by the exploration of rhythm, use of the torso and épaulement, and opportunity for creative expression in this presentational class, and it may be of particular use to those who are creating barre and centre exercises for their own Character dance classes. [Click here for a list of exercises used in this DVD (pdf)]
This video is available for purchase at Amazon.com (Click here: Vagnova Ballet Academy-Character Dance Class)
But you can try it (and many others) before you buy it with your subscription at KineticFlix.com:
More Ways To Get Into Character Dance
The Boys Do Ballet blog has an outstanding 5-part series all about Character Dance. Lots of video examples included!
More examples of Character Dance in classical and neo-classical works in this 2009 article from Dance Studio Life.
Josu Gallastegui’s Character Dance
BALLET & CHARACTER DANCE By Yurek Lazowski
Video excerpt of Vagnova Ballet Academy’s Character Dance Class DVD
Do you teach Character Dance?
Which resources on the subject have been helpful to you?
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.