Russian Classical Ballet Academy

Ballet's History Facts

How did classical ballet get on its toes?

Dancers have been performing classical stories set to music since the fifteenth century. However it wasn't until 1872 when the graceful Italian dancer Maria Taglioni introduced toe dancing that modern ballet was born. It took nearly another quarter century and the development of sturdier shoes before other dancers could learn and dance pointe and follow Taglioni's innovation.

Questions & Answers

Teaching Ballet

People often come to me and ask questions about dancing. They want to know if they should send their sons and daughters to ballet school, when to send them, how long it will take them to become dancers, and what chances they have for a career in ballet.

Ballet must be seen to be enjoyed, but many of us are more easily entertained if we have in advance some information about an art that happens to be strange to us. Most people may want to relax and make no effort when they go to the theatre, but I think the answers to questions about a dancer’s training, for instance, might help convince them that all art requires a certain amount of effort and ability on the part of the audience, too.

To ensure maximum clarity, I have arranged my views on ballet for your toddlers or children, on dancers, choreography and adults, in the form of particular questions and answers.

Question: What ballets should toddlers or children be taken to see?
Answer: Some people think that only ballets about puppets, such as Petrouchka and Coppelia, are good for toddlers and children. They are, of course, but I think you will find that children enjoy almost all good ballet. A friend of mine, I remember, thought that a full program of four ballets would be too much for her five-year-old nephew to sit through; she thought the child would get bored and squirm. She decided that they would see only the first two ballets and then leave. But the child didn’t want to go. He saw that all the other people weren’t leaving and that there was obviously going to be more. He stayed for all the ballets and loved every minute of it. Toddlers and children enjoy ballets without stories as much as narrative ballets. If the ballet company is a good one and the orchestra good, they will love these musical ballets. We must understand that children are flexible; they have more imagination, more feeling for fantasy, than grownups. Grownups analyze. They come into the theatre and say something, “This bores me, it’s taking up my time”; or they compare, “My wife is better-looking than that girl”; or they complain that they see nothing on stage similar to everyday life. Toddlers and children are open, freer, not so prejudiced. They have a natural ability to imagine things that ballet sometimes releases. The fascination life has for them is based on enjoying movement and change; ballet, in its idealization of movements, fascinates them. A storyless ballet, simply movement to music, they like almost instinctively. They will certainly like anything that is good, if we only give them the chance.

Question: If you want your child to be a dancer, what is the best preparation before the child begins to attend ballet class?
Answer: I would suggest reading the child (and toddlers) fairy stories – Grimm, La Fontaine, Gozzi, and many others – read them stories from Greek mythology and the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Most people know Hoffman’s stories from the operetta by Offenbach, Tales of Hoffmann, but he wrote a great many other wonderful stories. The story of the ballet The Nutcracker is just one of them. And by all means read the stories of the great Hans Chrisian Andersen. And I don’t mean Andersen’s stories, or any others, as they are watered down, especially translated and condensed for children. Good fairy stories were always written for intelligent people. Children are more intelligent than many of us think. Mickey Mouse will interest a child for only a short time; you should move on to fairy tales. It is well to remember that if a child continues to be interested only in Mickey Mouse, it is probably because you have not introduced him to something new. Children like to move on to new, more complicated things. They don’t like to be talked down to; they like it very much if you respect their capacity for new experience. You should also play music for your childem>. If you don’t play an instrument yourself, play records at home. Play them all the time; make music a regular thing around the house, like bathing and brushing teeth. Don’t bother with jazz or swing or popular records; the air is filled with it from morning to night, and children will hear enough of it. Play anything good. Don’t bother to tell the children what you are playing; soon they will remember, hum the music, and whistle it. They won’t care what it is especially, but they will surprise you when they recognize it. Then go on to play other things. Don’t expect children to like the music you play at once, don’t coax them, don’t even ask their opinion, just play it. If you think Mozart bores children, you may find out that Mozart is just boring you. Toddlers and children are not so prejudiced: they don’t have the barriers to enjoyment that so many of us grownups have. Children are more aware, more teachable, more vulnerable to entertainment. They have their own ears open.

Question: If you had a son, would you send him to ballet school?
Answer: Yes. The people who ask me this question say they hesitate to send their boys to ballet school because they are afraid the boys will become “sissified” or perhaps will not develop strong, muscular bodies as they might in another activity. That isn’t true. Male dancersem> must be very strong, not only for their own work but for partnering; their bodies must be flexible and they must have a great deal of endurance. This is the reason why many of our best dancersem> were good soldiers during the war. Of course, you can be strong and a “sissy” at the same time, but this has nothing to do with ballet: it is the person himself. We do not give ballet classes for boys and girls separately. They are together in class from the beginning. Perhaps if boys started to take dancing lessons early, they would appreciate the companionship and charm of girls even sooner than they ordinarily do!