Dance Tidbits: Ballet Rudolf Nureyev

If you’ve ever had occasion to go to a ballet, then you were treated to the most elegant, formal and beautiful dance art ever conceived. Ballet requires precision, formal training, rigorous practice and discipline beyond any dance skill set you will ever learn. Not everyone has what it takes to become a ballet dancer. But I will say this, if you started out learning ballet before any other dance, there’s a good chance you have a foundation that can make all the other dances you learn come quicker and easier. In addition, ballet training builds long lean muscles and your body lines will be much better in ballroom dancing. Ballet training with ballroom dancing can be beneficial, as you will find yourself improving greatly in style and technique; especially if you plan to train for competitions.

Ballet has origins as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries. Ballet spread from Italy to France and was further developed by aristocratic influence from an Italian noblewoman, Catherine de Medici, who was the Queen of France by marriage to King Henry II. The aristocrats brought ballet courtside, so to speak. It was royalty that dedicated the ideas, literature and music to entertain the aristocrats of the time. History notes the very first ballet to be recognized was staged and performed in 1573; it was called ‘Ballet des Polonais.’ Catherine de Medici staged this ballet in honor of Polish ambassadors visiting Paris.

Soon ballet became “the theatrical form of art” and often paired with opera in Europe. Ballet was also the dance of occasions: birth of royalty, ceremonies and weddings. Dancers were even hired for the occasion. When ballet first started; it was performed mostly by men. The word ballo means dance in Italian, which is how it got its name. Ballet could draw audiences up to 10,000 people at a time in 1581. The ballet show would start at 10 PM and go until 3 AM. The ballet show included speeches, music, drama and set design to enhance the ballet performance.

Ballet was a popular and finely attuned cultural dance that spread all through the European countries as well as Russia and America. Theatre companies started opening up around the world. The Royal Danish Ballet started in 1740, the Imperial Ballet of the Russian Empire moved back from Russia to France in 1850 helmed by the famous Russian ballet dancer, Sergei Diaghilev. Russia is a country with a very rich historical background rooted in ballet. The London Royal Ballet started in 1931, The San Francisco Ballet started in 1933, The list of ballet companies goes on, almost every country in the world has a ballet company and it continues to grow. There are too many to list here. One of the reasons dance companies and theatres were so popular was all the work it gave to its people. Performing a ballet brought composers, dramatists, choreographers and set designers together to collaborate with the performers. It was a huge production.

In the 19th century, the way ballet was presented began to change. It started to move away from the aristocratic society and become more romantic. Women began to be featured, even more than men. Ballerinas experimented with new techniques called “pointework.” Also the dance itself became more light and airy. Women appeared fragile and angel like. Ballerinas wore costumes with pastel colors and flowing skirts. It should be noted that the female dancers’ classical tutu appeared for the first time in the late 1890s. At that time, stories revolved around folklore. Ukrainian stories were very popular. It was all about the ballerina and they became the most popular dance performers in Europe in the early 19th century. Vienna was an important source of influential ballet coaches. The first ballet master of Hungary’s National Theatre and Royal Opera was the Vienna born Frigyes Campilli, who worked as a coach in Budapest for 40 years!

By the 20th century, the styles of ballet continued to develop and concerts became very popular. In the United States, the famous choreographer, George Balanchine developed the renowned form of ballet called neoclassical ballet. Neoclassical ballet is a style of dance between classical ballet and today’s contemporary ballet. George Balanchine’s ballet techniques were instrumental in bringing ballet to movies and television. He also opened schools in Chicago and New York. Balanchine was famous for rechoreographing classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’, as well as creating new ballets. He produced original interpretations of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’, ‘The Merry Widow’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

Today ballet is mostly called contemporary ballet. One dancer who trained with Balanchine and embraced neoclassical style ballet is the very famous Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Not only was he famous as a dancer but he also became the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre in 1980. Baryshnikov worked with various modern choreographers like Twyla Tharp. She is widely known for her modern movements of ballet with pointe shoes and classically trained dancers. Tharp also worked with the Joffrey Ballet Company founded in 1957 by Robert Joffrey. It is also a very prestigious dance company.

When it comes to ballet, we could go on forever. Whether it be from Renaissance Italy to the Russian Bolshoi Ballet company or another famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev; it is a dance rich with historical traditions, people and stories of the world. New and traditional forms and styles of ballet continue to excite dancers and choreographers alike. Ballet is and forever will be a highly technical and dramatic dance of all time and all centuries to come!

Happy dancing,

Thought Of The Week:

“Happiness is not something that you get in life. Happiness is something that you bring to life.” – Wayne Dyer


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website