Here at Ballet University I’ve covered a wide variety of topics, but the most interesting to me is the topic of ballet pedagogy; specifically, the national method of Russia known to many as the “Vaganova method.”
The name, of course, is after the world-renowned woman who began a MASSIVE amount of scientific research which formed all of the physiologically sound principles which make up the method today. Every principle and every rule (of which there are hundreds!) has been tested by the most highly respected teachers of the methodology departments in Russia. Not one item is superfluous or unnecessary.
I am so fascinated by the Russian method because, not only has it been producing the highest quality of dancers for over a century (like Baryshnikov and Nureyev), but the approach is so different from the prominent methods in America, England, France, or any other country for that matter. And the difference is so clear to see that wherever there is a dancer who studied this method some admirer is sure to remark, “That girl/boy must be Russian trained!”. With such clarity, it’s no wonder that Russians (or Russian trained dancers) are usually the ones to win at international competitions. To put it crudely, the Russians are kicking our butts!!
The thing that has always stumped me, though, is why don’t we UNDERSTAND this method? Everybody knows it’s great, but who knows the specific reasons WHY? The fact is, the method which A. Vaganova pioneered requires so much study to teach that the Russians have pretty much kept it to themselves. It’s just too difficult to teach to somebody who has no knowledge of the necessary background; and it surely doesn’t help matters if you don’t speak Russian, due to the sheer complexity of it all.
Finally, A Comprehensive Russian Course For Americans
In America, there are only a handful of teachers who have studied all layers of the method in-depth. These special people are the only ones truly qualified to teach it. Unfortunately, a lot of confusion has clouded the view since there are about 70 percent of ballet schools in the United States which claim to teach in the Vaganova style.
I am so blessed to have come across a book which lead me to it’s author, Peggy Willis-Aarnio, one of the very few people alive today still carrying the torch in a direct line from Agrippina Vaganova herself.
Dr. Willis-Aarnio’s teacher was John Barker, taught extensively by Vera Kostrovitskaya, who was Vaganova’s special assistant and the immediate successor to her legacy. After Willis-Aarnio’s training in teaching method with John Barker, she was invited to the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg to complete her studies. She is the first American to be certified (by Valentina Roumiantseva, senior methodologist of the Vaganova Ballet Academy) as a “knowledgeable practitioner and a teacher of the teaching method of classical dance.”
Eager to pass on the torch to the next crop of teachers, Peggy Willis-Aarnio is offering a thorough, academic course on teaching the first year and a half (the entire method consists of 8 years of study, or 6 years of condensed study for those who began late). I am so honored to be the one presenting this course to you!
Please find the details of this course below. I sincerely hope that you will attend, as this may be the only avenue for teachers in the United States to learn the method in its purest form. It is certainly a commitment, but it is my hope that those who are eager to learn will seriously consider coming. By the way, financial aid is available for those who can show that they have a need.
“How to Teach the First Half of the Elementary Work for the Study of Classical Ballet”
A course taught by leading authority on the Russian Teaching Method, founded by Agrippina Vaganova, Professor Emeritus, Peggy Willis-Aarnio
Classical Ballet Teacher’s Course, taught by Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio of the First Year and a Half of the Eight Year Program for the Study of Classical Dance. Certificate of Completion offered to those who wish to purchase at the completion of the course.
The course is sponsored and hosted by Ballet University. Two different dates are offered for time flexibility during the Christmas Holidays (for anyone coming from outside the US, you may attend both of these date offerings for no extra charge!). Sign up before November 1st to enroll at the lowest price; space is limited to the first 30 teachers who enroll.
1st Date Offering: December 27-30, 2011 and January 2-3, 2012.
Closing Ceremony the evening of the 3rd with presentation of Certificates and Awards
2nd Date Offering: January 4-9th, 2012
Closing Ceremony the evening of the 9th with presentation of Certificates and Awards
2 hour lecture with Q&A
30 minute break
2 hour lecture with Q&A
30 minute break
2 hours video demonstration lesson
La Mesa, California (in San Diego County). The specific location will be given for those who enroll.
Tuition: $1200 for entire course, for persons who enroll before November 1st.
After November 1st, the price for the course is $1500 (provided that space is still available). Space is limited to the first 30 teachers who call. For those coming from outside the U.S. who wish to take both date offerings, there will be NO extra charge.
Tuition Schedule: To enroll and secure your spot, half ($600) is due November 1 and balance ($600) is due first day of the course, payable to The Willis Ballet. We do accept all major credit cards. Call 850-319-5122 with credit card payment or send check to arrive no later than November 1st to: The Willis Ballet, 204 Greenwood Dr., Panama City Beach, FL 32407.
Additional costs: There is an additional OPTIONAL cost of $25 for the Certificate of Completion, due at the completion of the course.
For More Information, or to enroll:
Contact: Paul Aarnio, President of the Willis Ballet
or call 850-319-5122 (leave message)
Willis Conservatory of Classical Ballet
7702 McElvey Rd.
Panama City Beach, FL 32408
Recent Quote from Marina Medvetskaya, concerning Professor Peggy Willis-Aarnio
“I, Marina Medvetskaya, Director of the Saint-Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre, wish to explain that all who wishes to be trained in Classical Ballet must go through the scientific schooling method as founded by the great teacher Agrippina Vaganova and developed into a solid teaching method by Vera Kostrovitskaya. When Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio invited me to her teaching course, and I became exposed to the procedure of teaching by Vera Kostrovitskaya, I was totally captivated by the presentation of Professor Peggy Willis-Aarnio to the complete education of students of classical dance through her lectures and video/live presentations of demonstration lessons. I can tell that I am most grateful to Peggy Willis-Aarnio for all that she does now to the most important thing in life and that is to keep the knowledge and traditions of the whole procedure for teaching classical ballet from becoming lost. I am especially grateful to her for all of her tireless efforts to keep what Vaganova founded and the resulting finalization of teaching method by her foremost colleague and pedagogical student, Vera Kostrovitskaya, who took over the methodology department when Vaganova died in 1951. It is desirable for me to tell you that the true procedure for training in Classical Ballet can be learned at the most knowledgeable and capable hands of Professor Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio, and nobody can explain, teach or pass on this precious knowledge better than Peggy Willis-Aarnio. I give her all my highest personal and professional recommendations and congratulate her for all of her fine educational products, the only products of their kind.”
-Marina Medvetskaya, October 12, 2011
On the above reviewer: “The classical ballet company of Marina Medvetskaya from Saint-Petersburg carry on the highest traditions of Classical Ballet.” -Natalia Dudinskaya, former pupil of Vaganova, Honored Artist of Russia, Coach and Teacher of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, taking over Vaganova’s own class when she died in 1951.
Other Reviews of This Course & Remarks About the Instructor
Debra Sayles Senchak (Infinity Ballet Conservatory and Theatre Artistic Director, North Carolina. Former ballerina of the New Jersey Ballet Company 1975-2000):
“The teachers’ congress taught by Professor Peggy Willis Aarnio is a total treasure to the world of teaching classical dance. It offers so many tools to help organize each step of the way in preparing lessons to build dancers to bring out their fullest potentials. Useful for every level of teacher, and a wonderful guide for building a solid school. I found after participating in several levels of the Congress that other faculty had an interest to experience its value, and our Conservatory began to host this annual event. Over the years her educational products that compliment her courses such as the music for each level of ballet training, demonstration videos and books have been very useful resources for our training program.”
Barry Trammell (Vero Classical Ballet):
“Mrs. Willis-Aarnio’s teacher’s course is unparalleled in its usefulness and detail. When you implement the method you learn from her course you will see stunning results within two weeks of daily training. It is truly astonishing and the course is an absolute treasure!!!”
Nicole Kuczer (Undergraduate Student at University of West Florida, class of 2012, major in Chemisry/biochemistry. Former student of Prof. Willis-Aarnio at her Willis Conservatory of Classical Ballet in Panama City Beach, FL):
“Mrs. Aarnio’s teaching was pure, true to the classical method, and resulted in noticeable progress. The precision and poise that she taught in ballet class and the positivism with which she instructed, I now apply to everyday life. This is a mark of an excellent teacher.”
Amber E. Bochte (Professional Student of Prof. Peggy Willis-Aarnio. Member of The Willis Ballet. Pedagogical Student of Prof. Peggy Willis-Aarnio.):
“I have the wonderful privilege of being one of Prof. Willis-Aarnio’s students and getting to work with her on a daily basis. I have danced my whole life, but I have never felt this confident and sure about my technique until I began studying with her. I have read her book and taken a few of her teacher’s courses and it is amazing the amount of knowledge I have gained! I did not know there was so much information! I am so excited everyday to apply this knowledge on myself as a dancer but also on my students as a teacher. It is great to know that I have the tools to truly help a student develop their full ballet potential. I am thankful to be with Prof. Willis-Aarnio everyday and am glad that she is so willing and able to share her knowledge with those who truly want to learn.”
Stella Johnson (Dance Teacher, Wilmington School of Ballet, Wilmington, North Carolina):
“The book – One of the most amazing books written about Vaganova. The book is full of details about her teaching and about her life. I can tell that significant amount of research and time was dedicated to completing this book. Anyone who is interested in classical ballet and in particular Russian Classical Ballet Methodology must read and study this book. I have read it and I go back periodically and always find a new detail that I missed before.
Teaching – The class was taught in a very relaxed, friendly environment. It was not rushed, so everyone had time to ask questions and have a good understanding of the methodology, the progression of the steps, the tempos. At the end of the lesson, there was a demonstration class for the level taught. This was the application of what we had learned in the academic setting to the day-to-day teaching. Very practical, giving us the opportunity to ask questions and to actually see the steps, how they are to be performed and most importantly why. Dr. Willis-Aarnio is an eminent authority in her field, recognized in the U.S. and abroad for her knowledge of the Russian Classical Ballet Teaching Methodology.
Products – I cannot say enough about the products. I have the full set of tapes and the music that goes with each level. Each DVD has a sample lesson plan for the level. I have had these products for several years and use them to put together my classes. I also like the music CDs. They have the correct tempos for the exercises for that level. Best of all there is music for pointe exercises in the CDs, so my music is very complete. If you are interested in learning the Russian Classical Ballet Methodology, these are invaluable products. There isn’t any thing like them.”
Sharon Steele (President/Artistic Director, Harmonic Motion School of Classical Ballet, Rockwall, TX):
“I have built my ballet program around Prof. Willis-Aarnio’s teacher’s courses and student workshops; and am proud to say that my dancers are strong, injury-free and absolutely beautiful. I looked long and hard for something that would take all the mystery out of each ballet exercise. Teaching method has enabled me to become a more confident teacher. My dancers love the lessons and are very excited to see their progress.
Prof. Willis-Aarnio captivates her student teachers with all the knowledge and information a teacher will ever need to run a top-notch ballet program that preserves this beautiful art form to the highest standards. I leave the teacher’s course and student workshop each summer revitalized with new information, new inspiration and excitement to start each New Year!
I look forward to each course and workshop like a kid going to her favorite summer camp! All teachers who care about what they teach their students should attend each and every year!
Sian Panther (North Carolina):
“Mrs. Aarnio is a wealth of knowledge. Participation in her teacher’s course will open your eyes to a whole new world of ballet– the way it’s supposed to be! The first time I participated in her Teacher’s Congress, I found myself heartbroken for having grown up without this knowledge and training. At the same time, I was so excited by the new knowledge and found myself applying it to my own technique, both as a dancer and a teacher. At that time, I was teaching dance education in the public school (different from classical ballet training), and was thrilled to find connections there as well. I immediately applied concepts from the teacher’s course to my teaching in the public school and found huge improvements in the behavior, the interest level and the performance of my students. Of course, my students at the ballet studio benefited from the direct application of what I had learned, not to mention my own performance and technique in the ballet lesson. Mrs. Aarnio has worked very hard to gather the knowledge that she shares with her students and that work ethic is contagious to anyone around her. She is very serious about finding the truth in life and in ballet and will share that with you graciously. As a teacher, she will inspire you to think, to act, and to believe in what is right. You will grow as a dancer and as a person. And you will experience that same mixed feeling of regret (for missing this knowledge all of your life) and exuberance because now a door has been opened, and it is truly an awesome and valuable experience!”
Annette T. Thomas (Ballet University “fan”!):
“An opportunity not to be missed by any serious teacher of Classical Dance. Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio’s Teacher Courses and educational materials will give you meticulously detailed information on ballet pedagogy which, I believe, you will find no where else in the U.S. at this time. Her courses will fill in ALL of the “blanks” which are quite unknown even to some of the most experienced teachers. It is not enough to have taken class for X amount of years, as I have said to many, just because you graduated from high school doesn’t mean you can teach it!; and so it is with classical ballet; one may have taken class for years but this experience does not qualify one to teach Lessons in Classical Ballet. Dr. Peggy Willis-Aarnio’s pedagogical courses will teach you HOW to teach from the first day of lessons. An opportunity not to be missed by any serious teacher of Classical Dance.”