Day 25 of 84 Days of 84 Ribbons: Ballet History
Early ballet influences today and future ballet
Since the early dancers were amateurs in Louis XIV’s court, the style evolved from social court dances such as the gavotte, minuet and sarabande. Once ballet academies or schools came into existence, techniques were invented to standardize movements, the five feet positions, precise warm-ups, pointe shoes, leg turnout and leg extensions. Various training methods developed over time and across different countries, but the early techniques are still used today, three hundred and fifty years later.
Students learn the basic terminology for movements and begin with a series of warn-ups at the barre. Next they work to strengthen their legs, arms and core through combinations of steps, turns and jumps. When the warm-ups and the strengthening exercises are being taught, the dancer’s body is adapting to the rigors of ballet. Those practice movements become the basis for the choreography of solos, pas de deux (pairs dancing), ensemble pieces and entire ballets combined to tell a story or create a mood to match the music.
The choreographer combines practice movements into a continuous stream of movement matching the composer’s intent or creating a new interpretation of a piece of music. I grew up dancing to classical ballet stories like Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. We performed the notated steps created by famous choreographers, same as the professional dancers do, but at a less sophisticated level: our hands were less fluid, our jumps less high, our turns less crisp. If you attend a local ballet school recital and then a professional presentation of the same ballet, you’ll see the similarities as well as the skill level differences for yourself.