The History of Ballet

Court dancing

Ballet was first recorded in Italy in 1489 in the form of court ballet. Aristocrats and members of the court would perform for royalty, wearing lavish costumes and wigs. The body movements and choreography were elaborate so as to appeal to the rest of the audience seated up in balconies. The French perfected court ballet, and it reached its peak during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). Louis XIV would actually perform in the dances, where he once took the role of Sun King. At this time, choreographer Pierre Beauchamp developed the five ballet positions known to dancers today. In 1661, Louis XIV established the Academie Royale de Danse, and at this time spoken theater was intermingled with the dance by playwrights such as Moliere.

Professional, opera and romantic ballet

Professional dancing was in full swing by 1661, and assumed both roles of men and women. The first female dancers appeared in 1681. Ballet technique was recorded by master Raoul Feuillet in Choreographie in 1700, and the book contains many of the dance steps that we recognize today. Opera ballet developed soon after, combining singing and dancing and elaborately heavy costumes that limited movement. Outside of Paris, traditional ballet proliferated, eliminating spoken words and giving way to romantic ballet, standardized in the text, Letters on Dancing and Ballets (1760), which called for more emotion in the performances. In 1796, toe dancing began to emerge and by 1832 women dominated romantic ballet.

Modern times

Russia continues to practice professional ballet, and birthed an arrival in Paris, which by the late 19th century has lacked good male dancers altogether. The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake captured this era, and the Ballets Russes opened in Paris in 1909. Ballet Russes energized the ballet movement, and many offshoots around the world emerged, including the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, established in the 1940s. The 1960’s gave way to another re-emergence of ballet’s popularity, integrating rock ‘n’ roll and contemporary music and movements. Today, ballet encompasses many forms set to the backdrop of various music all over the world.