At the Dance Lesson


This photograph of students at the Moscow Academic Choreography School at the Bolshoi Theater (now known as Moscow State Academy of Choreography) was taken by photographer Leonid Zhdanov (1927−2010) during a dance class in 1972. The history of the Moscow school of dance goes back to the late 18th century. Empress Catherine the Great founded the school, which was named the Teaching House. The first teachers of dance came from Italy and France. Ballet was just starting to enter Russian culture, although it was already popular in Europe. The school accepted poor children and orphans—people of noble birth were not supposed to perform on stage. Besides dancing, children were taught mime skills, music, history, literature, arithmetic, writing, and religion. Upon completing school, newly formed artists entered the imperial theaters and private companies. Russians not only quickly mastered the European science of dance; they also introduced their own national characteristics into the art of ballet. By the middle of the 19th century, Russia had its own national school of dance. Dancers who were trained in Moscow differed from those trained at the dance school in Saint Petersburg, the capital of the country. Proximity to the imperial court with its rules of etiquette influenced the performances of the dancers. The Saint Petersburg Ballet valued the beauty and purity of the dance form and restrained nobility of manners. In Moscow, the artistic and emotional qualities of dance were foremost. These differences between the two leading Russian schools are still evident. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was also a professional ballet photographer for most of his career. His pictures are spontaneous and capture on film the movements, moods, and emotions of the unposed dancers. The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow holds this image and the rest of the Zhdanov archive.

Last updated: February 3, 2015