History of Ballet



Auden Gwilliam, Staff

If ballet was easy, they would call it football… 

     The word “ballet” means to dance. This art form first originated in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was specifically created for the entertainment of aristocrats. Ballet began in the Italian Renaissance courts and spread throughout Italy and France by Catherine de’ Medici, the queen of France. At first the ballerinas wore masks and many layers of brocaded costuming and decor. The clothing they wore was beautiful, but very difficult to move in. The dances were mostly made up of gentle turns, curtsies, small hops, slides, and promenades.

     The vocabulary that we use today in modern/classical ballet was officially codified in the French language over the next 100 years, including the time in which King Louis XIV of France reigned. Even the king would perform many popular pieces at the time. But once the king and his noblemen stopped dancing, trained and professional dancers were hired to dance in court functions. Many instruments also evolved during this time and were played during the ballet performances. In 1850, Russia had become one of the leading creative centers in the dance world. As ballet continued to grow and evolve, new fashion designs caught on. By the early nineteenth century, dancing en pointe (on toe) also became popular. The dancers would wear white bell-like skirts down to their calves with their hair pulled back in a bun.

     In the early twentieth century, Russia’s most talented dancers, musicians, choreographers, composers, singers, and designers began to tour the country together and perform in theaters. Later on, ballet schools and programs grew popular here in America around the 1930’s. The history of ballet has shaped it into the beautiful art form that many dancers use today.