Russian Classical Ballet Academy

How Ballet Began

Ballet has its origins in the 15th and 16th centuries, at the royal courts of Italy and France. The courts were splendid places where high standards of dress and behavior were expected from the courties (the nobles who served the royal family). Courties were taught how to dance elegantly, as music and dancing were important parts of court entertainments.

The first ballets

Ballet 1582

Spectacular court entertainments had elaborate scenery and stage effects. The courties danced in heels and highly decorated costumes. The audience often watched from galleries, so the dancers were taught certain steps and patterns that could be appreciated from above. These dances were the first ballets, known as ballets de cour or court ballets.

The Sun King

In 1643, Louis XIV came to the French throne. He was an avid dancer and it was during his reign that ballet developed as an art form. He set up the Academie Royale de Danse, which taught specific steps to professional dancers for his court. Then, in 1669, Louis opened an opera house by professional dancers. At first, only men were allowed to dance in the theaters but in 1681, women were allowed to dance professionally too.

Marie Camargo

Ballet began to be performed separately from operas, but dancers were still wearing heavy costumes and shoes with heels, as they did in the ballets de cour. Then, in the mid-18th century, Marie Camargo caused a big stir. She was the first ballerina to shorten her skirts so that the audience could see her calves and ankles, and she wore flat ballet slippers to improve her technique.

Romantic ballets

In the early to mid-19th century, an artistic movement called Romanticism had a strong influence on writing, painting, and music. It aimed to make people feel strong emotions, based on excitement and the beauty of wild nature. Romanticism had an effect on ballet, too, and Romantic ballets of this period often have two settings - a "real" world and a "ghostly" one. Not many ballets survive from this period, but ones that are still popular are La Sylphide and Giselle. The second acts of these Romantic ballets are known as "white acts". In these acts, the dancers are all dressed in white to represent the ghostly world.

Tutus and pointe shoes

One important change in Romantic ballets was that the ballerina became a focal point for the ballet. Before this, male dancers danced the more important parts. Female dancers began to wear a costume now referred to as the Romantic tutu - a long, layered skirt that showed the feet and lower legs. The most famous dancer of this period is Marie Taglioni. She was the first ever to dance on pointe - balancing on the very tips of the shoes. Dancing on pointe lengthens the line of the legs and feet, giving the impression that the dancer is floating.