Boys' Ballet Costumes: Russia

Figure 1.--Dance education began at an early age in the Soviet Union. I'm not sure if the same attention is given to training young dancers in modertn Russia.

Classical French culture was very influential in the Czar's court. Many Russian aristocrats spoke better French than Russain which they looked down on as brutish. Ballet was one of the French traditions they most admired. It is interesting that ballet, after the Revolution, became a Russian passion and was no longer restricted to the upper class. Part of the reason may be that after the 1917 Revolution, ballet was supported by the state and considerable prestige and benefits were conferred on boys and girls from an early age. Interesting even after the Revolution continued to support classical ballet. Perhaps this was useful as a symbol of Soviet achievement in the arts. Perhaps the pasison of the Russian people demanded it. The Bolshoi ballet school is wprld renowned. They train selected children there from an early age.


The first interest of the Russians in classical ballet was reported in 1672 whennCzar Alexius recruited dancers to entertain his court. Czarina Anne (1730-40) recruited 12 ballet masters for her court. This was the beginning of the so-called Russian school. In the following century and a half, while in the rest of Europe, the technique of the ballet gradually lost its perfection, the traditions of the old or "classical" ballet were preserved and refined in Russia.

Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov (1717-1777), may be considered the father of the Russian ballet. He was the greatest Russian playwright of epoch of classicism, was a passionate warrior in the development of Russian national culture. In 1759, for the first time in history, he presented a «ballet of Russian men and women» and thus established the dancing of the Russian people as part of theatrical performances. The artistic collaboration between poet, dancers and choreographer continued with work on the first Russian ballet, written by Sumarokov and entitled Pribezhishche Dobrodeteli (The Refuge of Virtue). Once again, this ballet reflected the highly intellectual direction taken by Russian dance. In the program, Hilverding appears as co-author of this work with Sumarokov: «Monsieur Sumarokov as being in charge of the poetic stanzas, and of the arrangement of the drama; Monsieur Hilverding as the one in charge of the dancers; and Startsov as composer of the music». Pribezhishche Dobrodeteli premiered on September 5, 1759. This date can be considered, with full justification, the birth date of Russian Ballet. The contents of the ballet were deeply patriotic, and all of the performers were Russian. (It is interesting to note that the performers of leading roles - Feodor Volkov, Ivan Dmitrievsky, Grigory Volkov and Alexei Popov - had all graduated from a full dance course at the School for the Nobility (Sukhoputny Shlyakhetny Corps), which at the time, was known to give instructions of high quality. They had studied with Andrei Nesterov and Mikhail Litrov, pupils and helpers of Jean Baptiste Lande. Moreover, the action of this work told in dramatic dance and pantomime that stressed the patriotic theme, was concluded with a «ballet danced by Russian men and women». Sumarokov was the first national writer whose works were used by Russian ballet, anticipating later attempts to use Russian classical literature as the basis for the creation of ballet librettos. (This practice had positive results during the Soviet era).

The arrival of Isadora Duncan and her "interperative" dance had a powerful influence on Russian ballet. Duncan styled her new ballet as "classical" ballet in the sence of classical Greece. Her ballet was characterized by free and flowing movements from one Greek or classic pose to another. This contrasted with the more formalized movements of what had been referred to as "classical" ballet. Influenced by Duncan's choereography, the Russian choereographer Michel Fokine created a composite style of ballet, a composite of the Russian school and the Duncan school of ballet. The choreographers Waslaw Nijinsky and Léonide Massine further developed this new style.

Serge Diaghilev directing a Russian ballet company from the Marinsky Theater in St. Petersburg during 1909. They performed for a season at the Chatelet theater in Paris. For the first time the new developing Russian ballet style was seen by western audiences. Among the ballets made famous by this company in 1909 and subsequent years were Petrouchka. "L'Après-midi d'un faun, L'Oiseau de Feu, La Sacre du Printemps, and Carnaval. Among the many important composers involved was Igor Stravinsky. He was notable for the number and originality of his compositions. Through its many tours, this company introduced the new Russian style of ballet to every major capital of the world.


We are not sure when the love of the ballet moved from the court and aristocracy to the common man in Russia. This could have occurred before the Revolution, but was no doubt furthered by the Communists. To the Soviets, support of the arts was pursued as a matter of national or idelogical pride. Capable students were trained in special schools which opened opportunities and benefits. This may be one of the reasons that ballet is viewed so much more differently in Russia than in many European countries and America by the children involved. Less claer is why ballet is sompopular among the general public. The chosen few talented Soviet children attened boarding schools where the children were among others pursuing ballet and interested in the arts. I think the average Russian child may have had much less opportunity to particvipate in ballet than a child in America or Europe. I am also unsure what the average Soviet boy thought about ballet. HBC is also unsure to what extent attitudes have changed in modern Rissia.

Figure 2.--These Russian boys are gathering in the hall in preperation for a dance class. They wear their school uniform shirts so as not to get cold. Note the Young Pioneer red kerchiefs, identifying this as a Soviet era photograph. about dancing.

Dedicated Ballet Schools

Some of the best known ballet schools in Russia are: Moscow' State Academy of Dance, St. Petersburg' State Academy of Dance (named after A. Vaganova), and Perm' State Academy of Dance. I have no information on Russian ballet education at this time. I thought the Bolshoi trained children, but perhaps it is just a theater and performance company. I plan to look into this more. If HBC readers have any basic information here, I would be very interested.

The Kirov

The Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia and the Kirov Academy of Ballet concepts of classical ballet presentation and instruction date back to 1738. The original St. Petersburg School was founded then by Ballet Master Jean-Baptiste Lande'. Several decades later, Empress Catherine the Great established a ballet company which subsequently became known as "The Mariinsky", later to become "The Kirov Ballet". Throughout the nineteenth century, a succession of influential ballet masters guided this ballet company--including the most influential of all, Marius Petipa, and later Madame Agrippina Vaganova.

Originally affiliated with the world-renowned Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet of St. Petersburg, the Kirov Academy of Ballet has itself rapidly become a focus of attention. A faculty well-conversant with the international ballet community trains its aspiring young dancers in a manner based on teachings of the Vaganova Ballet Academy and the performance standards of the Kirov Ballet. Oleg Vinogradov's dual role as artistic director of both the Kirov Ballet (until 1997) and the Kirov Academy has provided an unprecedented opportunity for artistic and cultural exchange between Russia and the United States. Madame Yelena Vinogradova, Deputy Artistic Director of the Kirov Academy, began her work with the Kirov Ballet in 1967. At the Kirov Academy since 1980, she has inspired her teachers and students to formidable heights of classic ballet achievement. While studying with the Kirov Academy of Ballet, students receive intense academic training along with rigorous barre, repertoire and character instruction, and performance preparation in state-of-the-art facilities. Recently, the Academy graduated its first senior class. All graduates had performed with the Kirov Ballet. Students of the Kirov Academy consistently win and place as they compete in national and international ballet and contemporary dance competitions.

The Kirov Academy of Ballet is unique among professional ballet schools in that it has established its own in-house academic program for students in grades 7 through 12. Goals of the Academy are to continue to provide an unprecedented opportunity for serious young ballet students without regard for race, faith or nationality. Ballet is experiencing another renaissance of performance and attendance as the Kirov Academy of Ballet moves confidently to the forefront of this resurgent classical expression...


Studying ballet in a Russian or Soviet-era ballet school was an amzing experience. The schools were highly competitive as ballet was so highly regarded and the potential benefits of acceptance so alluring. For all of the innocent seriousness and grace of Wednesday's eager oy young auditioners, only a handful of them--no more than 10 of of hundreds of applicats are usually accepted. The youngest childrenat majpr schools an 8-year regimen of rigorous and at times heartbreakingly tough dance training on top of a full scholastic curriculum. But at the end of that struggle lies the chance to shine on the world's stages. Of the pupils taken each year by major schools, only about half may be selected for aimportant company, and a handful of those will one day take Ruzimatov or Ayupova's place as lead ballet dancers with the dance troupe acknowledged as one of the best in the world.

Regular Schools

A teacher from a Moscow private school in 2008 tells us, "My class of 10-year old boys and girls have a ballet (dance) lesson each week. The girls dress in tradition ballet clothes but the boys wear loose fitting t-shirts and P.E shorts. We have had a school concert of music and dance to celebrate the New Year. A lot of work went into it. Many afternoons the children stayed for rehearsals. Both the boys and girls enjoy the dancing class each week. In fact they look forward to it and and go along to the lesson happy and excited." She teaches in a private school, but tells us that public schools also have dance classes. We are not sure how common this is.


Russian boys practicing ballet are more likely to work in classic ballet wear, leotards and tights. American boys are much more shy about such clothes. As a result, many American schools show much greater flexibility.

Performance costumes are to some extent determined by the piece being perormed. However the director has considerable lattitude here. Russian boys performing are quite likely to perform in tights whereas this is less common for American boys.


Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Cloth and textiles] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1890s] [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s]
[The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web dance pages:
[Return to the Main national ballet page]
[Return to the Main dance page]
[Irish step] [Kilts] [Highland]
[Ballroom] [Native American] [Tap]

Created: November 19, 1999
Last updated: 4:00 PM 1/5/2009