Where Did Ballet Originate?

Dancers performing modern ballet.
Dancers performing modern ballet.

Origins of Ballet

Ballet is a type of dance that originated in Italy during the Renaissance of the 15th Century. The courts held large social events and ballet became part of the regular performances. Nobility even learned the dance in order to participate. In the 16th Century, Italian-born Queen of France Catherine de’ Medici became a patron of ballet for the French courts. It remained a court performance until 1661, when King Louis XIV, son of Catherine, opened a dance academy. Its popularity spread throughout Europe, and by the 19th Century, it had made its way to Russia. Ballet companies began performing tours in the Americas in the latter part of the 19th Century and the dance soon became popular there as well.

Development of Ballet

Throughout the history of ballet performances, the dance has evolved with the times. Beginning as a social dance for the courts, it did not have formal steps until the dance academy of King Louis XIV. After this, ballet was performed as part of opera performances, referred to as opera-ballet. By the 1700’s, Jean-Georges Noverre, a choreographer, began to design dances as narratives. He taught dancers to use miming and facial expressions to help tell stories in order to move away from opera-ballet. The next major development did not occur until 1832, the Romantic era of ballet. This is when women became an integral part of the production and pointe shoes and long, flowing tulle skirts were introduced. The storytelling moved from myths to fairy tales and legends. In Russia, the ballet developed so that displaying technique was the main focus. Dances were choreographed in order to include the most number of jumps, turns, and movement possible. This focus on technique set into motion changes in costumes as well. The short, classic tutu was introduced during this time so that audience members could witness dancers’ foot and legwork.

Major Styles of Contemporary Ballet

Several styles of ballet have emerged over the years. Although many of these styles and variations continue to be performed, three in particular stand out as the most popular. These are classical, contemporary, and neoclassical. Classical ballet is based on traditional techniques and vocabulary. It may be influenced by its regional origin or its training method. Contemporary ballet incorporates various other dancing traditions while maintaining classical ballet roots. It may be influenced by jazz, modern dance, or ethnic dance. Neoclassical ballet follows classical ballet tradition while utilizing abstract concepts. It often does not follow a clear story-line.

Benefits of Studying Ballet

Today, people all over the world study ballet. Learning ballet is said to improve posture and strengthen weak muscles. It helps teach mind-body coordination and how to maintain focus and concentration. In addition, ballet is often the base from which to learn other forms of dance as well as sports, such as skating and gymnastics. Perhaps most importantly, the study of ballet teaches perseverance.

Significance Today

Ballet has long been appreciated as a form of entertainment, dance, and art. It has always influenced and been influenced by society, even today. Its techniques provide a look into the culture from where it originated. Technology today has allowed ballet to be even more present in daily life. Performances are now available online and social media now allows the audience to interact with the theater and its dancers. This is best represented by World Ballet Day which provides some of the top ballet companies in the world a live streaming platform from which to show the rest of the world what a life of ballet entails.


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