Classical ballet

Classical Ballet is the most formal of the ballet styles, it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as Russian ballet, French ballet, British ballet and Italian ballet. The Vaganova method, named after Agrippina Vaganova and the Cecchetti method, named after Enrico Cecchetti are Russian and Italian respectively and derive from the original French method.

Classical ballet is best known for its unique features and techniques, such as pointe work, turn-out of the legs, and high extensions; its graceful, flowing, precise movements; and its ethereal qualities.

History of Ballet

Ballet is a formalized form of dance with its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. It quickly spread to the French court of Catherine de' Medici where it was developed even further. In the 17th century at the time of Louis XIV, ballet was codified. The predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet reflects this history. It also became a form closely associated with the opera. Ballet then spread from the heart of Europe to other nations. The Royal Danish Ballet and the Imperial Ballet of the Russian Empire were founded in the 1740s and began to flourish, especially after about 1850. In 1907 the Russian ballet in turn moved back to France, where the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev and its successors were particularly influential. Soon ballet spread around the world with the formation of new companies, including London's The Royal Ballet (1931), the San Francisco Ballet (1933), American Ballet Theatre (1937), The Australian Ballet (1940), the New York City Ballet (1948), the National Ballet of Canada (1951), and the Delhi Ballet (2002).

In the 20th century styles of ballet continued to develop and strongly influence broader concert dance, for example, in the United States choreographer George Balanchine developed what is now known as neoclassical ballet, subsequent developments have included contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, for example seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany.

The etymology of the word "ballet" reflects its history. The word ballet comes from French and was borrowed into English around the 17th century. The French word in turn has its origins in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance). Ballet ultimately traces back to Latin ballare, meaning "to dance".

Development as an art form

The 18th century was a period of vast advancement in the technical standards was known of ballet and the period when ballet became a serious dramatic art form on par with the opera. Central to this advance was the seminal work of Jean-Georges Noverre, Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760), which focused on developing the ballet d'action, in which the movements of the dancers are designed to express character and assist in the narrative. At this time, women played a secondary role as dancers, encumbered as they were with hoops, corsets, wigs and high heels.

Reforms were made in ballet composition by composers such as Christoph Gluck. Finally, ballet was divided into three formal techniques sérieux, demi-caractère and comique. Ballet also began to be featured in operas as interludes called divertissements.

The 19th century was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet by a shift away from the aristocratic sensibilities that had dominated earlier periods through romantic ballet. Ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler pioneered new techniques such as pointework that rocketed the ballerina into prominence as the ideal stage figure, professional librettists began crafting the stories in ballets, and teachers like Carlo Blasis codified ballet technique in the basic form that is still used today. The ballet slipper was invented to support pointe work.

Romanticism was a reaction against formal constraints and also of industrialization with the introduction of complex machinery and factories. The zeitgeist led choreographers to compose romantic ballets that were light, airy and fae that would act as a contrast to the reductionist science that had, in the words of Poe, "driven the hamadryad from the woods". These "unreal" ballets portrayed women as fragile unearthly beings, delicate creatures who could be lifted effortlessly. Ballerinas began to wear romantic tutus, with pastel, flowing skirts that bared the shins. The stories revolved around uncanny, folkloric spirits. An example of one such romantic ballet is La Sylphide, one of the oldest ballets still danced today.


Ballet, especially classical ballet, puts great emphasis on the method and execution of movement. A distinctive feature of ballet is the continuous outward rotation of the thighs from the hip, referred to as "turnout". The foundation of the dance consists of five basic positions, all performed with the turnout. Young dancers receive a rigorous education in their school's method of dance, which begins when they are young and ends with graduation from high school. Students are required to learn the names, meanings, and precise technique of each movement they learn. Emphasis is put on building strength mostly in the lower body, particularly the legs, and the core (also called the center or the abdominals) as a strong core is necessary for all movements in ballet, especially turns, and on developing flexibility and strong feet for dancing en pointe.


There are at least seven styles of training in classical ballet, the most common being Vaganova method (Russian), Cecchetti method (Italian), Royal Ballet School and Royal Academy of Dance methods (English), and Balanchine method (American). The techniques found in classical ballet are a framework for many other styles of dance, including modern ballet and contemporary ballet.

For women, the typical ballet class attire includes pink, blue, or flesh colored tights and a leotard (which can come in various colors and styles), with an optional short wrap-skirt. For men, the typical class attire includes tights along with a form-fitting shirt or leotard. Dancers wear soft technique shoes, often called flats during their classes. The female dancers usually wear pink or beige flats while the men wear black or white flats. Often, leg warmers (knitted tubes that vary in length from just long enough to cover the ankle to long enough to cover the entire leg) are worn during the early part of a class to protect the dancer's muscles until they become warm. During ballet class, it is usually required that women restrain their hair in a bun or other style which keeps the hair flat against the head and off the neck. The purpose of the customary dance class attire and hair style requirements is to allow the dancer freedom of movement and allow teachers to evaluate the alignment and technique of the dancer.

Once the foundation of basic technique has been laid, women begin to wear pointe shoes while men continue to wear soft shoes and learn more advanced jumps and turns. The age at which dancers start pointe work varies from student to student. Strength is paramount in being able to wear pointe shoes for extended periods of time. Premature wearing of pointe shoes or insufficient training can result in serious injuries and/or disabilities in later life. Generally speaking, many studios do not allow students to take pointe class until at least 11 years old, assuming she has reached adequate skill and strength for her level. Any younger than eleven, even with strong physique and technique, the bones in a student's feet will mold and conform to the pointe shoe and the girl's feet will likely be disfigured in structure.


Although there are regional variations, the 'rules' and movement vocabulary of ballet remain the same throughout the world. The different training techniques of ballet are designed to produce a different aesthetic quality from a student. This is particularly noticeable in the high extensions and dynamic turns of Russian ballet, whereas Italian ballet tends to be much more grounded, with a focus on fast intricate footwork . For example, the Tarantella is a well-known Italian folk dance, which is believed to have influenced Italian ballet.

The most notable ballet methods are named after their originator. For example, two prevailing systems from Russia are known as the Vaganova method after Agrippina Vaganova, and the Legat Method, after Nikolai Legat. The well-known Cecchetti method is based on technique developed and taught by the Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928). Another European system, based on the teaching methods of the Frenchman Auguste Vestris, was that developed in Copenhagen by August Bournonville (1805–1879). The system is taught chiefly as a tradition in Bournonville's own country of Denmark.


Ballet mostly classical, puts a great amount of emphasis on the execution of movement and the method.

The feature of ballet is the outward rotation of the thighs from the hip. The foundation of the dance is of five basic positions, all performed with the turnout. Most young dancers receive a very strict and rigorous education in their school's method of the dance, which begins when they are young and ends with graduation from high school. Students are required to learn all the names, meanings (most), and last but not least precise technique of each movement which they learn. Emphasis is the building or putting on building strength mostly in the lower body (particularly the legs and the core which are also called the center or the abdominals) as a strong core is necessary for many movements in ballet mostly turns, and on developing flexibility and strong feet for dancing en pointe.

Illusion of flight

To perform the more demanding routines, a ballet dancer appears to defy the laws of physics. Basic physics and understanding of human perception provide insight into this. A high level of physical fitness is required.

For example, during the grand jeté, the dancer may appear to hover. Physically, his/her center of mass describes a parabola, as does any projectile. Observors have limited ability to reckon center of mass when a projectile changes its configuration in flight. To do this the dancer extends their arms and legs, which camouflages the fall and leads the audience to perceive the dancer is floating.

A Pas de Chat (step of the cat) creates a similar illusion. The dancer starts from a plié, then during the ascending phase of the step, quickly lifts each knee in succession with hips turned out, so that for a moment both feet are in the air at the same time, passing each other. For a moment, the dancer appears suspended in air.

The landing must be performed carefully, the dancer bends at the knees (plies) and rolls the foot from toe to heel. For artistic as well as safety reasons this technique must be taught by a qualified instructor.

Pole Dance

Often todays pole dancers started their career as a ballett dancer. Pole dance itself uses many moves adopted from ballet, as for example the attitude spin. Pole dancer Felix Cane quit ballett at the age of 17 years.

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