Curriculum-based activities and background information for Teachers.All About Ballet Resources
Ballet originated in the Renaissance courts of Italy. It was very different from the ballet of today and was primarily enjoyed by the monarchy. It was developed from court dances and its popularity spread first to France and then onto Europe.
Louis XIV (1643-1715), King of France, was very interested in ballet and during his reign, ballet developed rapidly and became very popular. Louis XIV was re-named the ‘sun king’ from one of the roles he danced in Ballet de la Nuit. During this period, Louis X1V set up what is now known as the Paris Opera, and in 1670, professional dancers began to perform the ballets. At first only men performed, but in later years, women began to take roles.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, ballet costumes evolved to be more like what you might see today because dancers could not do all of the jumps and turns in heavy wigs and stiff corseted costumes. Softer shorter costumes emerged for the female dancers so the line of the leg and the foot could be seen. Softer shoes allowed them greater freedom of movement so more difficult moves could then be developed.
The language of ballet is French because so much of the development of ballet happened in Louis XIV’s reign. Many of the names, when translated, indicate how that movement should be performed. Translation of the names can lead to a greater understanding of the emphasis of the movement. The names often tell you exactly what part of the body is moving and which way, for example, rond de jambe a terre – circle of the leg on the ground. Click on the glossary of terms for more.
Many modern styles of dance such as jazz, hip hop and contemporary still use the language of ballet for some of the movements or use movements that have been adapted from ballet. If you look closely when you watch other dance forms, you may be able to identify a move that has originated from ballet, but has been adopted by another style of dance. Today, many choreographers use a broad vocabulary of dance styles and influences to create work.