While no one dancer fits easily into a single category, it can be helpful to distinguish between the general “types” of ballerinas, according to their strengths: Some stand out with incredible technical skills, like turning; some light up the stage with charisma and charm; and others rival Gumby with their flexibility and range of motion.
Check out this guide for a breakdown of common ballerina archetypes and see if you can identify yourself; you may be surprised what famous ballerinas share your skills (and weaknesses)!
The Lyrical Ballerina
Famous Lyrical & Romantic Ballerinas: Margot Fonteyn, Nina Ananiashvili, Alessandra Ferri
The lyrical and romantic ballerina embodies the image associated with the word “ballerina.” She is long and lithe, with a dramatic air of wistful romanticism that casts grace on every step she takes.
These ballerinas tend to excel not at one technical skill, but at the art of creating a heroine that lives and breathes on stage. Dancers with this talent are carried forever in the hearts of audience members, particularly in tragic roles.
If you go to the ballet and leave thinking, “She was so beautiful…What an amazing story,” chances are that you have just witnessed the magic and power of a lyrical and romantic ballerina. Their natural gift lies in using ballet to make you feel the power of a piece.
Lyrical and romantic ballerinas tend to have a hard time performing roles with a weak underlying character. Ballets short on narrative—such as contemporary or neoclassical ballets--may be difficult for these dancers.
Famous Virtuosa Ballerinas: Paloma Herrera, Maria Bylova, Maria Kochetkova
The virtuosa ballerina is vibrant, exuberant, and vivacious. She dances every step with the spirit and fire of a Spanish maiden, making for the most superb Kitri.
The virtuosa excels in any step that makes the audience go “Ooh!” and “Aah!” She pulls off a diagonal of pirouettes with a smile on her face, kicks her leg to her ear without closing her fan, and jumps higher than her partner can lift.
Her combination of technical confidence and artistic fire makes her an unstoppable force on stage.
The opposite of the lyrical and romantic ballerina, the virtuosa often struggles with more tender roles, such as Juliet or Odette. The control and subtlety of more fragile maidens is elusive as pieces that lack technical virtuosity and party tricks tend to come with more difficulty.
The Adagio Ballerina
Famous Adagio Ballerinas: Svetlana Zakharova, Uliana Lopatkina, Lucia Lacarra
The adagio ballerina excels in the self-titled form of adagio. She wows with her extensions and silky smooth port de bras, mastering épaulment and movements as smooth as butter.
The adagio ballerina is best in her native habitat, performing the adagios of pas de deux as well as variations that move at a slower pace. She makes for a beautifully soft Odette and a heart-rendingly authentic Giselle.
Adagio ballerinas are frequently Russian, as the Vaganova method of ballet emphasizes control and airy port de bras above all else. These ballerinas have sparkling extensions, and their developés reach at least chin level, though they usually extend above their tiara spangled heads.
Hot Tip: Leggy Length
If you're an adagio ballerina with gorgeous gams, don't give it all away off the bat! Remember, the most beautiful thing is not a sky high develope done eighty times in a row; it's three developes that slowly and beautifully ascend in height. Don't be afraid to go lower sometimes for dynamics!
The adagio ballerina is frequently lanky and super flexible, which allows for gorgeous extensions, but also makes turns more difficult. She will not perform breakneck triple fouettés and quadruple pirouettes often; her supple muscles may lack the strength required for superb stability and consistent solid port de bras.
Famous Turner Ballerinas: Tamara Rojo, Gillian Murphy, Irina Kolesnikova
Just like the adagio ballerina, the turner excels at the skill for which she is named. Pirouettes and fouettés are her fortes, and she started doing manèges by the age of ten. Don’t be surprised if you see her cast in roles with grand pas de deux—the coda is her favorite part!
The turner excels, or course, at turns. She often has a more compact body and shorter frame, allowing for a lower and more stable center of gravity. She can whip through a triple pirouette with one arm on her waist and do piques around the stage twice before stopping to breathe. This ballerina takes the word coda and makes into cake!
While the turner ballerina is a natural at some of the most difficult parts of ballet, her biggest battle tends to be with adagios. Her instant reflexes become troublesome when forced to negotiate with the super slow speed of developés and grande ronde de jambs. The turner may also struggle with flexibility.
Famous Jumper Ballerinas: Natalia Osipova, Alla Sizova, Erica Cornejo
From grande jeté to entrechat six, the jumper ballerina is a perpetual bouncing ball. She soars through the air like a feather, coming back down to earth only because she wants to, not because she must. She performs Myrtha’s manège of saut de basques with the ease of a child jumping rope.
The word ballon may as well have been made for the jumping ballerina. She excels at any kind of jump and can easily attain both elevation and extension in the air. Roles that demand a flying ballerina, such as the girl in Flames of Paris, are ideal for these dancers, as they require a huge amount of airborne virtuosity.
Additionally, the jumper ballerina excels in any roles that have her competing playfully with her male partner—in most cases they can actually jump higher than their prince or cavalier!
The jumping ballerina is quite versatile with an excellent combination of flexibility and strength. However, her supreme jumping skills can sometimes throw the rest of her technique off balance; her adagio and turns can pale in comparison to her gravity defying jumps. Roles that limit her jumping and confine her to earthbound technique are difficult, such as Juliet or the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Squash Your Weaknesses
Every kind of dancer has skills and weaknesses, and you should be proud of being able to do anything well, whether it’s turns or character charisma. So get to work on your weaknesses and showcase your strengths!