Art
Fact-checked

At MusicalExpert, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is Ballet?

Ballet is an art form that combines graceful movement, music, and storytelling through dance. Originating in the Italian Renaissance courts, it has evolved into a highly technical performance with its own language of steps and poses. It's a mesmerizing blend of athleticism and expression. Discover how ballet's elegance captivates audiences and transcends cultural barriers. What magic does ballet hold for you?
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Ballet performed today differs greatly from its origins. Originally the term was applied to Renaissance dances of the Italian court. Only men performed, as any form of acting was considered disgraceful to women. Men dressed as women danced female parts. Though ballet is often considered French, the first were danced in Italy. However, as its development progressed, the French became the innovators of the modern form.

French forms of ballet introduced the dance for both men and women. Female dancers were still rare. Many of the moves of the modern form derive from the French introduction of court ballets commissioned by Catherine de Medici in the 1500s. Because of the female dress fashions, the moves of men were more important than those of women. Women’s feet movements could barely be seen underneath their long skirts. Full skirts, elaborate wigs, and later corsets further hampered women’s dance. High heels worn by both men and women restricted jumping, as landing was precarious.

Professional ballerinas have almost always received training since childhood.
Professional ballerinas have almost always received training since childhood.

In the 1600s, professional dance companies were formed. Jean Baptiste Lully’s Acadamie Royal de Musique exists still, but the company still trained courtiers as well as professionals. Performances on stages radically altered ballet. Previously, audiences viewed dancers from three sides. Now, the audience sat in front of the stage, which meant changes to choreography to showcase the dancers as viewed from one angle.

Ballet is an artistic, formal dance form that is derived from the court dances of Renaissance Italy.
Ballet is an artistic, formal dance form that is derived from the court dances of Renaissance Italy.

Later in the century, female dancers had become more acceptable. Two rival dancers, Marie Ann Cupis de Carmago and Marie Salle are credited with changing the form for women. Salle raised her hemlines so people could see her footwork. Carmago concentrated on athleticism showcasing jumps, which were made easier when she removed the heels from her shoes.

Ballet, which gained popularity in France, is a type of performing arts.
Ballet, which gained popularity in France, is a type of performing arts.

Ballet was often a part of opera, which is now not the case. In the 19th century, the modern form emerges in La Sylphide. Romantic ballet is the first to feature dancers in toe shoes (en pointe). Marie Taglioni is credited as the first to use en pointe. Lifts, jumps, and holds are characteristic of the Romantic form, and toes shoes lent an ethereal quality to the female dancers who often portrayed fairies or other mythical creatures.

Many figure skaters take ballet to learn technique.
Many figure skaters take ballet to learn technique.

In the 20th century, all countries practicing ballet worshiped Margot Fonteyn, who danced in a tutu, a costume which was first developed in the late 19th century. Dance parts now featured equally difficult parts for males and females, and the term “prima ballerina,” came into use, meaning the female star of a dance company. The term principal dancer, is now often preferred over prima ballerina, as the latter term tends to represent something akin to snobbishness. In America, the dance company formed by George Balanchine tremendously inspired ballet. The Russians had much influence on the dance with the company Ballet Russe.

In the past, ballet was often part of opera.
In the past, ballet was often part of opera.

Today, ballet is seen in many different forms. One sees modern dances choreographed to very modern music, but many still prefer the traditional type of footwork in performances like “Swan Lake.” Ballet interprets music through a variety of accepted movements. More modern forms may incorporate elements from other dance traditions, but traditionalists see this as a denigration of this centuries old art form. However, from a historical point of view, ballet has always been in flux, and the current form is little over 100 years old.

There are various styles of ballet including classical, contemporary, and neoclassical, as well as the different techniques including French, Italian and Russian.
There are various styles of ballet including classical, contemporary, and neoclassical, as well as the different techniques including French, Italian and Russian.

Fantastic male dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov fueled late 20th century interest in this dance form. His work was absolutely stunning, and a precursor to the amazing work of Ethan Stiefel, considered one of the best male artists today. Americans became reinterested in ballet after the release of the film, The Turning Point in the 1970s, featuring Baryshnikov. A more recent film, Center Stage features Stiefel, as well as Sascha Radetsky, another stunning male dancer. The film is an excellent inside look at the ballet world, based on a film formula similar to that in 42nd Street.

Ballet is particularly hard on women, who must be rather thin to partake.
Ballet is particularly hard on women, who must be rather thin to partake.

Ballet dancing is particularly hard on the female. Women must be very thin, and appear almost girlish in figure, provoking an epidemic of anorexia and bulimia among female dancers. This led to several companies establishing guidelines to monitor the weight of dancers and more carefully watch them for signs of these eating disorders. However, most dancers acknowledge that despite this vigilance, eating disorders are still rampant and taint what is otherwise a beautiful art form.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of ballet?

Ballet originated during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia. It began as a courtly dance for Italian aristocrats and was further refined under the patronage of Louis XIV, who founded the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661. This institution was pivotal in establishing ballet as a professional art form.

What are the key characteristics of ballet?

Ballet is characterized by its formalized movements and poses, which include pointe work, high extensions, and precise turns and leaps. It is known for its grace, fluidity, and discipline, with a vocabulary of steps that are universally recognized. Ballet often tells a story through dance, music, and sometimes pantomime, and it requires rigorous training to master its technique.

How does ballet training typically progress?

Ballet training usually begins at a young age, with students progressing through various levels as they master the technique. Starting with basic positions and movements, students gradually take on more complex combinations and pointe work. Professional dancers often train for years, with many starting as early as 7 or 8 years old and continuing well into their teens and early twenties before joining a company.

What are some of the most famous ballets?

Some of the most renowned ballets include "Swan Lake," "The Nutcracker," and "Sleeping Beauty," all composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. These ballets are celebrated for their memorable music, choreography, and storytelling, and they continue to be performed by ballet companies around the world. They have become cultural touchstones, enchanting audiences for generations.

How has ballet evolved over the years?

Ballet has evolved from its courtly origins to incorporate a range of styles and techniques. The 20th century saw the emergence of neoclassical ballet, which stripped away elaborate costumes and sets, focusing more on the dancers' athleticism and skill. Contemporary ballet has further pushed boundaries, blending classical ballet with modern dance to create innovative and often abstract performances that challenge traditional narratives and aesthetics.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent MusicalExpert contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent MusicalExpert contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon110794

this site was really helpful for my dance essays.

anon109181

Thank you so much!

anon86804

this was so helpful. it went into a little more detail than some of the other sites I've been on and that is definitely important on a paper titled the history of ballet.

anon86798

this was definitely helpful.

anon82151

just like everyone else, this helped me do my essay. Thanks a bunch. i thought it was going to be hard to write two to four pages on dance. But this made it a whole lot easier.

anon78901

nice. sounds complicated. good job.

anon71877

great for my book report. thanks.

anon62583

It helped me with my research report. I will definitely use this sight!

anon50827

it was a very nice article and helped me a lot with my french report.

anon40074

this was a really good article and it has really helped me to write my essay.

anon221

I thought this article was wonderful. I tought me a lot about the history of the ballet. I hope to read more.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Professional ballerinas have almost always received training since childhood.
      By: Brocreative
      Professional ballerinas have almost always received training since childhood.
    • Ballet is an artistic, formal dance form that is derived from the court dances of Renaissance Italy.
      By: snaptitude
      Ballet is an artistic, formal dance form that is derived from the court dances of Renaissance Italy.
    • Ballet, which gained popularity in France, is a type of performing arts.
      By: KABUGUI
      Ballet, which gained popularity in France, is a type of performing arts.
    • Many figure skaters take ballet to learn technique.
      By: Galina Barskaya
      Many figure skaters take ballet to learn technique.
    • In the past, ballet was often part of opera.
      By: Kalim
      In the past, ballet was often part of opera.
    • There are various styles of ballet including classical, contemporary, and neoclassical, as well as the different techniques including French, Italian and Russian.
      By: Zsolnai Gergely
      There are various styles of ballet including classical, contemporary, and neoclassical, as well as the different techniques including French, Italian and Russian.
    • Ballet is particularly hard on women, who must be rather thin to partake.
      By: rvas
      Ballet is particularly hard on women, who must be rather thin to partake.