What is Bournonville Method?

By Becky Dimock / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

The Bournonville method, created in the Romantic era of ballet, was created by the Danish dancer and choreographer, August Bournonville in the mid-1800’s.  This style of ballet is known for small, fast footwork (bravura), emphasized by movements of the torso, arms, and head in the direction of the feet (epaulement).  Additionally, Bournonville ballets require a lot of acting and mime work.

The Bournonville method, created in the Romantic era of ballet, was created by the Danish dancer and choreographer, August Bournonville in the mid-1800’s.  This style of ballet is known for small, fast footwork (bravura), emphasized by movements of the torso, arms, and head in the direction of the feet (epaulement).  Additionally, Bournonville ballets require a lot of acting and mime work.  Its creation was possible because of new kinds of costumes (in particular, the empire waistline) and shoes (including pointe shoes).  These innovations allowed for a much wider range of movement and dancing en pointe gave the appearance of lightness.  This was also a time when Port de Bras was improved; creating more graceful arm movements.  

Another unique quality of Bournonville’s ballets, and possibly one reason why these ballets have survived, is that they challenged male dancers as much as they challenged female dancers. 

Bournonville studied ballet under his father, Antoine Bournonville, and then continued his studies in Paris.  He returned to Copenhagen to take up the post of soloist and choreographer for the Royal Danish Ballet.

While his ballets were choreographed in Copenhagen, the subjects and storylines almost always derived from his travels across Europe.  Not only did he use themes from his tours, but he also integrated the styles of national dances into his ballets.  You can see influences from many countries, such as Spain, Norway, and Italy in his ballets. In particular, the tarantella is said to have been the inspiration for what has probably become his most famous ballet, Napoli.

August Bournonville was a prolific choreographer; creating 63 ballets, with some of his most popular  ballets still being performed today.  His works include Napoli,  Flower Festival in Genzano, and La Sylphide (Sylfiden).  Therefore, any ballet student must be prepared to perform in this style.  Variations from Bournonville ballets are a favorite with summer intensives, and many professional companies have at least one Bournonville ballet in their repertoire.  While a studio won’t likely focus on this method, you can learn about it by watching videos of the ballets. 

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!

About the Author

Becky Dimock

Becky Dimock is an accidental dance mom; falling into the role when her two daughters joined a very small studio. However, she wanted to do whatever she could to be involved with her daughters and help out the studio, so she volunteered wherever she could; eventually becoming the parent volunteer coordinator, while helping out sewing costumes. When the studio closed and they moved to a new studio, she became the costume manager; sewing all the costumes; from tutus to booty shorts. She continues to help the studio in any way she can.