Ballet as it is performed today is a far cry from its origins. Originally, the term referred to the Italian court’s Renaissance dances. Because any form of acting was considered disgraceful to women, only men performed. Female parts were danced men dressed as women. Despite the fact that ballet is often associated with France, the first performances were held in Italy. However, as time went on, the French became the forerunners of the modern form.
Both men and women were introduced to ballet through French forms. Female dancers were still in short supply. Many of the modern ballet’s movements are derived from Catherine de Medici’s commission of court ballets in the 1500s in France. Men’s movements were more important than women’s because of female dress fashions. The movement of the women’s feet could barely be seen beneath their long skirts. Women’s dance was further hampered full skirts, elaborate wigs, and later corsets. Both men and women wore high heels, which made jumping difficult because landing was risky.
Professional dance companies were founded in the 1600s. The Acadamie Royale de Musique, founded Jean Baptiste Lully, still exists, and it continues to train courtiers as well as professionals. Ballet has changed dramatically as a result of stage performances. Audiences used to be able to see dancers from all three sides. Because the audience was now seated in front of the stage, choreography had to be altered to highlight the dancers from a single perspective.
Female dancers became more acceptable later in the century. Marie Ann Cupis de Carmago and Marie Salle, two rival dancers, are credited with changing the form for women. Salle wore her hemlines higher so that her footwork could be seen. Carmago emphasized athleticism demonstrating jumps that were made easier removing the heels from her shoes.
Ballet used to be a part of opera, but that is no longer the case. In the nineteenth century, La Sylphide introduces the modern form. Ballet dancers wear toe shoes for the first time in Romantic ballet (en pointe). The first person to use en pointe is Marie Taglioni. Lifts, jumps, and holds are typical of Romantic dance, and toe shoes gave female dancers who often portrayed fairies or other mythical creatures an ethereal quality.
Margot Fonteyn, who danced in a tutu, a late-nineteenth-century costume, was idolized all countries that practiced ballet in the twentieth century. Male and female dance parts were now equally difficult, and the term “prima ballerina” was coined to describe the female star of a dance company. The term principal dancer has largely replaced the term prima ballerina, which has come to be associated with snobbishness. The dance company founded George Balanchine in America greatly influenced ballet. With the Ballet Russe, the Russians had a significant influence on dance.
Ballet is now performed in a variety of ways. Modern dances are choreographed to very modern music, but traditional footwork is still preferred in performances such as “Swan Lake.” Ballet uses a variety of well-known movements to interpret music. Traditionalists see this as a denigration of this centuries-old art form. More modern forms may incorporate elements from other dance traditions, but traditionalists see this as a denigration of this centuries-old art form. Ballet, on the other hand, has always been in flux historically, and the current form is only a little over 100 years old.
Fantastic male dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov sparked interest in this dance form in the late twentieth century. His work was absolutely stunning, and it served as a forerunner to Ethan Stiefel’s incredible work, which is now regarded as one of the best male artists working today. The film The Turning Point, starring Baryshnikov, rekindled interest in ballet in the United States in the 1970s. Center Stage, a more recent film, stars Stiefel and Sascha Radetsky, another stunning male dancer. Based on a film formula similar to 42nd Street, the film is an excellent inside look at the ballet world.
Ballet dancing is particularly difficult for women. Female dancers are expected to be extremely thin and have a girlish figure, which has resulted in an epidemic of anorexia and bulimia. As a result, several companies have established guidelines to track dancers’ weight and more closely monitor them for signs of eating disorders. Despite this vigilance, most dancers acknowledge that eating disorders are still prevalent and taint what is otherwise a beautiful art form.