Different Schools of Ballet: Characteristics and History

Ballet has been a form of expression and artistry for centuries, captivating audiences with its graceful movements and storytelling. However, did you know that there are different schools of ballet? Each school has its unique characteristics and history. The Russian, French, Italian, and British schools of ballet have all contributed to the evolution of this beautiful art form. Which one is right for you? Let’s dive into the details and discover the differences between each one.

Russian Ballet

Russian Ballet
When it comes to ballet, Russian ballet is known to be one of the most influential and iconic styles in the world. It is characterized by its intense and powerful movements, and its emphasis on dramatic storytelling. Despite its popularity, the history of Russian ballet is full of perplexity and intrigue, from its origins in the imperial courts to its evolution into a national ballet industry. Let’s explore the characteristics and history of this fascinating style, and discover what makes it so unique and enduring. If you want to learn more about ballet in general, you may check out some other articles on our website, such as history of ballet evolution and influential figures or ballet physical demands and prep.


When it comes to the characteristics of the different schools of ballet, each style has a unique set of qualities that sets it apart. Here are some of the key characteristics of Russian, French, Italian, and British ballet.

Russian Ballet:

  • Emphasizes athleticism, strength, and dramatic expression
  • Incorporates sharp movements and high extensions
  • Prioritizes precise technique and intense training
  • Known for its legendary ballets, such as “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” and “Giselle”

Russian ballet companies such as the Bolshoi and Mariinsky are known for producing some of the world’s most talented dancers, with their style placing a strong emphasis on strength and athleticism.

French Ballet:

  • Emphasizes elegance, fluidity, and grace
  • Incorporates quick footwork and light jumps
  • Prioritizes precise and graceful movements with a focus on the upper body
  • Known for its technical precision and airy quality

The French school of ballet is credited with developing the five basic positions of the feet and arms, which are still used today. French ballet companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet are known for their emphasis on elegance and grace.

Italian Ballet:

  • Emphasizes fast and precise footwork
  • Incorporates intricate movements and delicate partnering
  • Known for its expressive qualities and musicality
  • Prioritizes the feeling and emotional expression in dance

Italian ballet, also known as Cecchetti, places a strong emphasis on musicality and interpretation. Unlike other styles, Italian ballet puts a stronger focus on the dancer’s emotive range, allowing for more interpretive freedom.

British Ballet:

  • Combines elements of athleticism, strength, and elegance
  • Incorporates detailed and precise arm movements
  • Prioritizes storytelling and theatricality
  • Known for its diverse repertoire, including contemporary works and classical masterpieces

British ballet has a focus on theatricality and storytelling, emphasizing the importance of conveying a narrative through dance. It also places much importance on fluid arm movements, which help to create a sense of flow and continuity in the dance.

Each school of ballet has its own distinct qualities and characteristics that set it apart from the others. By understanding the unique elements of each style, dancers can choose which one resonates with them and pursue it further. To learn more about the famous ballets, techniques, myths, and stereotypes associated with ballet, check out some of our other articles on famous ballets, ballet positions, pro ballet scenes, ballet techniques, and ballet myths and stereotypes.


When it comes to the history of ballet, each school has a unique and fascinating story to tell. Let’s take a closer look at the histories of Russian, French, Italian, and British ballet.

Russian Ballet
The Russian ballet school began to take shape in the 18th century, with the founding of the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg in 1738. The school, which later became the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, has been instrumental in training some of the greatest ballet dancers in history, including Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
French Ballet
The French ballet school traces its roots back to the court of Louis XIV in the 17th century, where ballet was an integral part of court entertainment. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Paris became the center of the ballet world, with the establishment of the Paris Opera Ballet and the École de Danse de l’Opéra National de Paris. French choreographers such as Marius Petipa and Rudolf Nureyev have had a significant impact on the development of ballet as an art form.
Italian Ballet
The Italian ballet school has a long and storied history dating back to the Renaissance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Italian ballet flourished with the establishment of ballet schools in La Scala in Milan and the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. Italian ballet was known for its technical virtuosity and its expressive use of the upper body.
British Ballet
The British ballet school emerged in the 20th century with the founding of the Royal Ballet School in 1926. The school went on to produce some of the most renowned ballet dancers of the 20th century, including Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. British ballet is known for its focus on storytelling and dramatic expression.

Each school of ballet has its own unique characteristics and history, which have contributed to the development of ballet as an art form. Understanding the history of these schools can deepen one’s appreciation and understanding of ballet.

French Ballet

French Ballet
When it comes to the world of ballet, the French have made quite a name for themselves. Their unique style has been popular for centuries, but what exactly is it that sets it apart from other ballet styles? Let’s explore the characteristics and history of French Ballet, and see what makes it such a beloved style.


When it comes to the different schools of ballet, each possesses their own unique set of characteristics that distinguish them from one another. Here’s a closer look at the defining characteristics of each style:

Russian Ballet:

  • Powerful, dynamic movements that emphasize high extensions, deep pliés, and smooth transitions.
  • Encourages dancers to push beyond their limits and strive for technical excellence.
  • Executes a lot of turns and jumps, showcasing athleticism and strength.
  • Often features a strong emphasis on the use of the arms and upper body in storytelling.

French Ballet:

  • Characterized by lightness, elegance, and grace, with an emphasis on fluidity and precision.
  • Places a great deal of importance on proper alignment, posture, and controlled movements.
  • Often focused on harmony and synchronization between dancers, with less emphasis on individual virtuosity.
  • Incorporates a lot of intricate footwork and delicate movements in en pointe shoes.

Italian Ballet:

  • Utilizes quick, light movements and virtuosic athleticism in a more theatrical and expressive style.
  • Draws heavily from the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, featuring comedic or jovial characters in performances.
  • Emphasizes intricate, fast-paced footwork and partnering work that requires intense communication and synchronization between dancers.
  • Often showcases a strong emotional connection between dancers, with a focus on dramatic storytelling.

British Ballet:

  • Known for its combination of classical technique with a more contemporary and experimental approach to movement.
  • Emphasizes a soft, lyrical quality in movements, with an emphasis on fluidity and musicality.
  • Often emphasizes theatricality and storytelling, with a focus on narrative and character-driven performances.
  • Infuses elements of modern dance and other styles into classical techniques for a more unique and dynamic approach to ballet.

Each school of ballet possesses its own unique style and technique, making it important for dancers to explore and experiment with different styles to find the one that resonates with them the most.


When it comes to the history of Russian Ballet, it is impossible to ignore the influence of the Imperial Russian Ballet. This institution, which now goes by the name of the Mariinsky Ballet, was founded in St. Petersburg in the 18th century. Famous choreographers such as Marius Petipa and Michel Fokine created masterpieces for the Imperial Ballet, which were characterized by their grandeur and technical complexity.

However, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 brought about significant changes for Russian Ballet. The major dance companies were nationalized, and the dancers themselves became public employees rather than servants of the royal family. Despite these shifts, though, many of the fundamentals of the Imperial Ballet style lived on. This included the emphasis on technique, which continued to be honed and perfected over the years.

Today, Russian Ballet is known for its powerful, athletic quality. Many of the movements are large and grand, with an emphasis on high leaps and quick turns. Dancers are expected to have a strong understanding of character and theatricality, which is evident in many classic Russian works such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

The Mariinsky Ballet company continues to be one of the most prestigious in the world, with their performances continuing to showcase the history and tradition of Russian Ballet.

Italian Ballet

Italian Ballet
As we continue to explore the different schools of ballet, we arrive at a style that may not have gained the notoriety of its Russian or French counterparts. However, don’t let its lesser-known status fool you, Italian ballet has its own unique characteristics and history worth examining. But what exactly sets Italian ballet apart from the rest? Let’s delve into its distinguishing features and captivating story.


When it comes to ballet, each school has its own unique characteristics that set it apart from others. Below are the distinctive features of each ballet school:

Russian Ballet:

  • Emphasis on Vaganova method: The Vaganova method of ballet training is extensively used in Russian ballet. This approach focuses on precise alignment, coordination, and fluidity of movement. It trains the dancers to use their whole body while dancing, creating a harmonious and seamless performance.
  • Strength and athleticism: Russian ballet dancers are known for their incredible strength and athleticism. They have explosive jumps, fluid turns, and can execute complex pirouettes with ease.
  • Theatricality: Russian ballet emphasizes storytelling through dance. Their performances are often dramatic and emotional, with dancers showing a range of emotions through facial expressions and body language.

French Ballet:

  • Grace and elegance: French ballet is known for its grace and elegance. Dancers trained in this school have a delicate, fluid quality, with light, precise footwork and refined arm and hand movements.
  • Tutus and pointe shoes: French ballet is also known for its iconic tutus and pointe shoes. The tutus are often shorter and fluffier than those seen in other schools of ballet, while the pointe shoes have a flatter toe box for greater flexibility.
  • Emphasis on musicality: French ballet emphasizes musicality, with dancers trained to move gracefully to the rhythm of the music. Their performances often incorporate intricate footwork that matches the tempo of the music.

Italian Ballet:

  • Muscular athleticism: Italian ballet emphasizes muscular athleticism, with dancers trained to have strength and power in their movements. They have a dynamic and bold style of dancing, often incorporating acrobatic jumps and turns.
  • Classical roots: Although Italian ballet has a more theatrical and dynamic approach to dance, it still maintains a strong connection to classical ballet. Their performances often include classical techniques and repertoire.
  • The art of pantomime: Italian ballet also emphasizes the art of pantomime, where dancers use gestures and facial expressions to tell a story without words. This adds an additional layer of drama and complexity to their performances.

British Ballet:

  • Eclectic style: British ballet draws from various styles and techniques, resulting in an eclectic and diverse style of dance. They fuse together classical techniques with contemporary movements, creating a unique and innovative approach to ballet.
  • Emphasis on acting: British ballet also emphasizes acting, with dancers trained to convey a character’s emotional journey through their movements. This creates a more immersive and theatrical experience for the audience.
  • Individuality: British ballet celebrates individuality and diversity, encouraging dancers to bring their unique style and personality to their performances. This creates a more inclusive and welcoming environment for artists from all backgrounds.

Each ballet school has its own unique approach to dance, emphasizing different techniques, styles, and performance aspects. By understanding the characteristics of each school, dancers can better choose a style that fits their own individual strengths and preferences.


When it comes to the history of ballet, each country has its own unique story to tell. Let’s dive into the history of each of the four main ballet schools: Russian, French, Italian, and British.

Ballet School History
Russian Ballet The history of Russian ballet dates back to the 17th century when Western European dance styles were introduced to Russia. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Russian ballet truly began to flourish. The Russian Imperial Ballet was founded in 1740, and in the following century, it became one of the most prestigious companies in the world. During the Soviet era, ballet continued to thrive, with the establishment of the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet). Today, Russian ballet is characterized by its strong technique, dramatic flair, and emphasis on storytelling.
French Ballet Like Russian ballet, French ballet also has roots in the 17th century, when Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Danse. However, it was in the 19th century that French ballet experienced its golden age, with the famous Ballets Russes performing in Paris under the direction of Sergei Diaghilev. French ballet is known for its elegance, precision, and emphasis on clean lines and footwork.
Italian Ballet Italian ballet has a long history dating back to the Renaissance. During this period, dance was performed primarily at court as a form of spectacle. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Italian ballet began to gain international recognition. Today, Italian ballet is characterized by its lyrical quality, focus on simplicity, and use of classical technique.
British Ballet British ballet has a more recent history compared to the other schools, with the Royal Ballet being founded in 1931. However, British ballet has made a significant impact on the art form, with choreographer Frederick Ashton creating many of the company’s most famous works. British ballet is known for its strong technique, musicality, and innovation.

As you can see, each ballet school has its own unique history that has shaped its distinct style and technique. Understanding the history of each school can provide valuable insight into the dance form and help you choose which style might be the best fit for you.

British Ballet

British Ballet
When it comes to discussing the various schools of ballet, the British style does not often receive the same level of recognition as its counterparts. Nonetheless, the British ballet style has a rich history and unique characteristics that make it a worthwhile study. From the refined elegance of the Royal Ballet to the neoclassical motifs of contemporary choreographers, the British ballet scene offers a distinct perspective on the art form. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of British ballet and explore what makes it a noteworthy addition to the global ballet tradition.


When exploring each of the different schools of ballet, it’s essential to understand the unique characteristics that define each one. Here we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of each style, without simply repeating the header.

Russian Ballet Characteristics:

  • Emotional Range: Russian ballet is known for its emotional range, portraying deep, intense emotions through nonverbal communication in their performances.
  • Technique: Russian technique focuses on precision, control, and fluidity of movement, with a particular emphasis on high extensions and speed.
  • The Use of Arms: The use of the arms is prominent in Russian ballet, with the arms often appearing as wings or a frame for the body.
  • Unity: Russian ballet emphasizes a sense of unity between the dancers, with a high level of cooperation and synchronization during performances.
  • Grand Movements: Russian ballet is known for its grand and bold movements, such as high lifts and leaps.

French Ballet Characteristics:

  • Grace: Grace and elegance are the hallmark of French ballet, with a focus on fluidity of movement and a lightness of touch.
  • Footwork: French dancers are known for their fast and intricate footwork, with a particular emphasis on precision and clarity of execution.
  • Port de Bras: The port de bras, or carriage of the arms, is a defining characteristic of French ballet, with a lightness and gracefulness in its execution.
  • Lightness: French ballet is known for its light, buoyant quality, achieved through the use of quick, precise footwork and delicate arm movements.
  • Classical Symmetry: French ballet emphasizes a classical, symmetrical form, with a focus on balance and control of movements, creating a sense of harmony between performers.

Italian Ballet Characteristics:

  • Musicality: Italian ballet emphasizes the relationship between music and movement, with a focus on rhythmic and dynamic variations.
  • Expressiveness: Italian dancers are known for their expressiveness, emphasizing the story being told through their movements.
  • Grazioso: Grazioso, or gracefulness, is a defining characteristic of Italian ballet, with fluid, flowing movements and an emphasis on lyricism.
  • Technique: Italian ballet focuses on precise technique, with a particular focus on the clarity of footwork and the use of facial expressions.
  • The Use of Arms: The use of arms in Italian ballet is fluid and expressive, often used to convey emotion and tell a story.

British Ballet Characteristics:

  • Storytelling: British ballet emphasizes storytelling through movement, often using themes from literature or current events.
  • Emphasis on Character: British ballet puts a strong emphasis on character development, creating complex and nuanced characters with their movements.
  • Port de Bras: Similar to French ballet, the port de bras is a defining characteristic of British ballet, with a focus on fluidity of movement and graceful arm carriage.
  • Eclectic Style: British ballet has an eclectic style, incorporating elements from different schools of ballet and other dance styles, creating a unique and diverse aesthetic.
  • Sense of Humor: British ballet is known for its sense of humor, incorporating comedic elements into some performances.

Each school of ballet has its unique characteristics that make it special. Understanding these characteristics is essential when choosing a ballet style to study or appreciate as a viewer.


When it comes to the history of Russian Ballet, it is impossible not to mention the name of Marius Petipa, who was the principal choreographer of the Imperial Russian Ballet during the late 19th century. Petipa developed a style of ballet that was characterized by its symmetry, precision, and elegance. He also collaborated with some of the greatest composers of his time, such as Tchaikovsky and Minkus, to produce some of the most iconic ballets of all time, such as The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.

However, Russian ballet did not start with Petipa. In fact, the history of Russian ballet can be traced back to the 18th century, when the Empress Anna Ivanovna invited French and Italian dancers to perform at the Russian court. These performers introduced their own style of ballet to the Russian audience, which was a blend of the French and Italian styles of the time.

Over the years, Russian ballet continued to evolve and develop its own unique style. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of the system of training known as the Vaganova method, named after its creator, Agrippina Vaganova. The Vaganova method emphasized the importance of developing a strong technical foundation, as well as the ability to convey emotion and tell a story through dance.

Today, the legacy of Russian ballet can be seen in the countless ballet companies and schools that continue to thrive both in Russia and around the world. The techniques and choreography of Marius Petipa continue to be celebrated and performed, while new generations of dancers are trained in the Vaganova method.

Which Ballet Style to Choose?

Aspiring ballet dancers may feel overwhelmed and uncertain when it comes to which style of ballet to pursue. Each style has its distinctive characteristics and unique history, making the decision-making process challenging.

Russian Ballet is known for its grandeur and expressive movements, with a particular emphasis on the upper body. It’s perfect for dancers who desire to showcase their emotional range, strength, and flexibility. If you’re interested in mastering difficult pirouettes and gravity-defying jumps, then Russian Ballet is the way to go.

French Ballet is the epitome of finesse and precision, with a strong emphasis on footwork and turn-out. This style is ideal for those who prioritize technique and appreciate the grace and fluidity of dance. If you desire to master challenging foot combinations and clean lines, then the French style will be an excellent fit for you.

Italian Ballet is a combination of both the Russian and French styles, focusing on both expression and technique. It’s the perfect choice for dancers who want to showcase their versatility, combining attributes of both graceful and explosive movements. If you enjoy having diverse choreography, blending harmoniously with the music, and dramatic expression, then this will suit you best.

British Ballet focuses on storytelling, and its choreography is known for its narrative aspect. It’s perfect for individuals who want to communicate stories and emotions through dance. This style puts importance on the dynamics of the movements rather than technical precision. Those who are inclined to perform with a lot of emotions and dramatic flair should learn British Ballet.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference and the kind of dancer you aspire to be. Each ballet style has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I would recommend trying out each style to determine which feels the most natural to you. Remember that whichever style you choose, hard work, dedication, and a desire to improve will be the keys to success.


After exploring the different schools of ballet, it’s clear that each one has its own unique characteristics and history. Russian ballet is known for its emphasis on technique and precision, while French ballet focuses on grace and fluidity of movement. Italian ballet is renowned for its storytelling and dramatic expression, and British ballet is characterized by its emphasis on theatricality and athleticism.

So, which ballet style should you choose? That ultimately depends on personal preference and goals. If you’re interested in mastering technique and precision, Russian ballet may be the best fit for you. If you prefer a more fluid and graceful style, French ballet could be the way to go. If you want to explore the dramatic and expressive side of ballet, Italian ballet may be the perfect fit. And if you’re drawn to the athletic and dynamic aspects of ballet, British ballet may be the style for you.

Ultimately, it’s worth exploring all the different schools of ballet to find what resonates with you the most. Each style offers its own unique challenges and rewards, and any dancer can benefit from exposure to different styles and techniques.

In conclusion, the world of ballet is rich and diverse, with a range of styles and traditions that have developed over the centuries. Whether you’re just starting out as a dancer or have been studying ballet for years, there’s always more to discover and explore. So, embrace the beauty and complexity of ballet, and keep dancing to your heart’s content.

Preguntas frecuentes

What is the main difference between Russian and French Ballet?

Russian ballet emphasizes fluidity, extension, and dramatic expression, while French ballet focuses on speed, precision, and technical skill.

What are the characteristics of Italian Ballet?

Italian ballet is known for its vibrant, energetic movements and emphasis on character and gesture.

How did British Ballet develop?

British ballet was heavily influenced by the Romantic Movement of the 19th century and grew out of a fascination with stories of myth and legend.

What are the characteristics of Russian Ballet’s choreography?

Russian Ballet’s choreography often features high extensions and exaggerated, fluid arm movements.

What makes French Ballet unique?

French Ballet puts a strong emphasis on footwork and intricate, precise movements that require a great deal of technical skill.

What is the history of Italian Ballet?

Italian Ballet originated during the Renaissance and was influenced by the commedia dell’arte tradition of comedic theater.

Why is British Ballet known for storytelling?

British Ballet often features narrative storytelling, with a significant focus on characters and their emotions.

What are the key differences between each style of ballet?

Each style of ballet places emphasis on different aspects of movement and expression, such as fluidity in Russian ballet, precision in French ballet, character in Italian ballet, and storytelling in British ballet.

Can dancers study multiple styles of ballet?

Many dancers study multiple styles of ballet, as exposure to different techniques can enhance their overall technique and versatility.

How can someone choose a ballet style to study?

Choosing a ballet style to study depends on individual preference and goals, such as whether the focus is on technical skill or storytelling ability. It can be helpful to watch performances, talk to instructors, and do research on the different styles before making a decision.


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