Cecchetti who?

Es first exam certificate, with the highest honors

{This is probably one of my longest posts, but there is so much information that I wanted to share about Enrico Cecchetti, and the what’s & why’s of the exam process}

April 2014 – Imagine a young teenager having her first exam that is really geared towards younger dancers. Now picture a young teenager that has never been tested in her life in the area of ballet.  Add on to that fact, she doesn’t like to be compared to others in the area of dance (one of the many reasons “E” doesn’t compete).  So, when her teacher talked about taking the Grade 2 Cecchetti exam, we didn’t know what that really entailed.

So, if you don’t know who Cecchetti was, let me give a brief history lesson (ok, it’s a bit of a read, but it’s good to know the history).  Enrico Cecchetti was born literally in a dressing room of a theatre in Rome on June 21, 1850. Although his parents wanted a career in business or law for him, Enrico was determined to be a dancer and finally convinced his parents of his great desire and dedication. All of Cecchetti’s teachers had been trained by Carlo Blasis. This early training created a background for Enrico Cecchetti’s method of teaching.  Cecchetti began touring Europe in his late teens and had his debut on the stage in Milan at age 20. He was an instant success! Throughout his career, he received rave reviews and accolades and was considered the finest male dancer of his time. Cecchetti taught at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg from 1887-1902, and from 1902-1905 in Poland at the Warsaw State School. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1905, he established a school there. From 1907-1909, he coached Anna Pavlova exclusively until dancers from the Maryinsky pleaded with him to open his classes to them. When Diaghilev wanted his company, the Ballets Russes, to tour, the dancers refused because they would miss their daily classes with Cecchetti.  Diaghilev hired Enrico for the dual roles of ballet master and mime. Cecchetti’s presence in the Diaghilev Ballets Russes was very important. He was the link between the past and the present, contributing to the birth of modern classical ballet. Tired of touring, Cecchetti settled in London, where he opened a school to which dancers flocked. Considered the technical lodestar of the ballet world, it was said that no one could become a finished ballet dancer without passing through Cecchetti’s hands. In 1923, he returned to Italy to retire but was invited by Arturo Toscanini to resume his teaching career at La Scala, his lifelong dream. 

The Cecchetti Method of ballet training is a progressive system of training dancers from a pre-ballet beginning level to a professional level.  The Cecchetti Method was designed with careful regard to the laws of anatomy to prepare a dancer’s body to bear the physical demands of public performance.  The Method embodies qualities that are essential to the dancer; balance, poise, strength, elevation, elasticity, musicality and artistry.  Cecchetti USA has established a syllabus of carefully orchestrated exercises that build in complexity ensuring that each new movement is introduced from a fundamental approach.  As each movement is mastered and refined, new movements are introduced.  This progressive approach with attention to detail has produced a long list of very famous and accomplished ballet dancers.  The Cecchetti Method is classic in its purity and clean style and enables dancers to respond to the demands of a variety of choreographers.  The Method emphasizes the importance of using the entire body to establish a feeling for line.  Focus is on instruction by studying and absorbing the basic principles which govern the art, rather than by mere imitation of an individual’s teaching style.  Balance between the daily practice of both Cecchetti’s set exercises and each teacher’s new sequences is essential to producing a well rounded and versatile dancer.

grade 6
E right after her Grade 6 exam

Now, flash ahead to early January 2016…going into Grade 6 exam, but a new first for this exam – she was testing all by herself.  For the past exams, E would go into an exam with her fellow studio-mate/partner-in-crime. It made it less stressful, and gave each other a slight breather during the test.  This time, E was all by herself.  Imagine dancing an entire 75 minute exam, being watched by an examiner completely alone – barre exercises, floor work, being tested on terminology and a short dance. No pressure there (sarcastically said) – and add on  a minor ankle twist near the end of the exam.


But what do all these grades mean?  E is actually dancing at a Grade 7/8 level, so she’s still playing “catch up” with the exams (CUSA requires exams to be taken in order).  Most examinees take 1 graded exam every year, E has done 5 in less than 2 years, and is aiming for Grade 7 in April.

But why do these exams? (A common question we both get asked frequently).  There are 4 reasons that I would like to give my opinion on:

  1. It’s an internationally recognized ideology of ballet, where she can go to any Cecchetti studio and know the moves, terminology, etc.   Other well-known ones are Vaganova, Balanchine and RAD (Royal Academy of Dance).
  2. It’s a way to really study each of the exercises & combinations to where it becomes almost a subconscious part of every ballet class, not just a Cecchetti level class.
  3. Major exams (grade 8-10 & diploma) are very difficult work, and shows the dedication of the dancer for future dance opportunities.
  4. Cecchetti has several intensive and extensive teaching exams for dancers over the age of 16, which when completed, it just another accomplishment that is internationally recognized in the dance world.

So, to those ballet moms & ballerinas, it’s not too late to start testing. And I encourage you to look into your area on how you can start the process.

*I took a lot of this historical information from Cecchetti USA’s website



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