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Ballet Dancing

Updated on May 9, 2011

Working Hard to Achieve Grace, Elegance and Beauty

'Attitude en Pointe'
'Attitude en Pointe'

Is Ballet Dancing really all Grace and Beauty?

Well, this is the way we are supposed to see ballet dancing. We as the audience just see the pure grace and beauty that is ballet. We don’t see the years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears that a dancer has to go through to become a ballet dancer.

When a child first starts ballet dancing lessons, the focus is on musicality, interpretation, imagination and fun. Once they decide to take their ballet dancing more seriously the hard work begins. They are taught the five basic positions of the feet and arms and given exercises each lesson to strengthen the basics. The muscles are trained with repetitive exercises to strengthen them and build muscle memory. The ligaments are stretched to their fullest capacity to gain greater flexibility. Through all the exercises at the bar and the repetitive on going training through the years, the dancer get to learn to move with great speed, control, agility, grace and lightness. When the dancer has achieved this perfection of balance, precision and beauty of movement and makes it looks so easy – she can then call herself a ballerina.

This training takes about ten years, and requires a lot of hard work, discipline and dedication to the art. It is an extremely hard art to excel at, but each generation manages to bring with it a few really gifted dancers. No years of training will make a good dancer of an untalented pupil, or someone with a limited body, but we can all aspire to it. Taking ballet lessons has a lot of benefits even if the pupil never intends to branch out into ballet dancing as a career.

Physically, ballet dancing does express the perfect functioning of limbs and joints. A lot of physical improvement can be gained out of the exercises that make up a ballet class. A bad posture can be improved, muscle weaknesses can be corrected, grace and coordination are gained, and of course it demands a high level of fitness. Ballet is also good for the mind as it helps dispel negativity and install optimistic traits. Ballet music is even used as a therapeutic treatment for the mentally ill.

On the other hand, ballet is not for those with spinal curvature, knocked knees, or children with weak highly arched feet, or flat feet, although there are benefits to strengthening the flat foot. Ballet also needs to be performed on a sprung floor, to avoid damage to the knees and ligaments from landing on unyielding floors.

Whether you are a dancer, taking weekly ballet classes, or in the audience simply enjoying watching the effortless grace and beauty that unfolds before us on the stage, ballet dancing in its various forms will still be with us for centuries to come.

Snippets of History in Ballet Dancing

Ballet dancing first flourished in the courts of Italy following the Renaissance. Upon marrying Henry II, Catherine de Medici took the art of court entertainment with her to France. It is from her great Ballet Comique de la Reine of 1581 that the birth of ballet is usually dated.

Courtiers and even monarchs took part in these court entertainments. The movements were stately, and fitting the etiquette of the court. The performances usually took place in either the ballroom or the great courtyards. Courtiers and honored guests watched from raised platforms.

In those days the court dress did not permit ladies to move with the freedom that they do today, and in most cases their faces, feet and legs could not be seen. Men had a lot more freedom of movement, as tights were a regular part of court dress.

In 1669, Louis XIV set up a dancing academy called the Paris Opera, but it was many years before ballet dancing as we know it today developed. During the early 18th century, professional ballerinas started emerging, however they still looked like court ladies partnered by court gentlemen.

Marie de Camargo started developing the role of ballerina by creating the first entrechat, which is a step where the ballet dancer jumps straight up into the air and beats her feet. To show this off the skirt was permitted to be raised a little.

Marie Salle was the other great ballerina of the age and went a step further to dance her ballet Pygmalion wearing only a thin muslin shift. Paris society found this too scandalous and she had to take her art to London where she continued performing at Covent Garden in 1734.

By the middle of the 18th century, ballet dancing was still rather stifled and ballerina’s still wore heavy dresses and masks to hide their features. The ballet dances and stories were always about gods and goddesses and told by a mixture of mime, music and speech.

When Jean-Georges Noverre published his ideas about how ballet should develop as a separate art in 1760, Paris did not receive them warmly. He did however manage to put some of them to practice while working in Stuttgart, but it was his pupils who developed them fully.

One of his pupils Jean Dauberval produced a charming ballet La Fille Mal Gardee, which is still very popular today.

During the French Revolution, the Romantic Movement in literature, music and painting grew and from that grew the romantic age of ballet dancing. Marie Taglioni created the role of La Sylphide about a woodland sprite that tempts a young Scottish farmer away from his earthly love. Her technique was strong and she could stand on Pointe and with her immediate success, she became the ballerina of the age.

Other supernatural beings were created after that including Ondine, a water sprite. This role was re-created by Frederick Ashton for Margot Fonteyn over a hundred years later. The last great ballet of this age was Giselle, before this creative phase came to an end.

Auguste Bournonville was the son of a ballet master, who created his own version of La Sylphide in 1836. He then went on to produce a stream of ballets in which he used colorful and lively national dances. This trend then followed in ballets you see today.

Marius Petipa’s collaboration with Tchaikovsky gave the world some of its most popular ballet music like SwanLake and The Nutcracker. To find out more about ballet dancing visit


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