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The Guide to Ballet

By Yann, published on 01/05/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Dance > Everything You Need to Know about Ballet

“Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.” – Oprah Winfrey

The above (without kicking off your shoes) is true for every style of dance and it’s especially true for ballet.

When was the last time you really danced?

Grab your ballet shoes (don’t kick them off) because we’re going on a trip through the history of dance and why you should start learning how to dance.

By the end of this article, you should be thinking about joining a dance class either at a ballet school or with a private classical ballet tutor.

The History of Dance

Ballet is often seen as the origin of all dance and an art form rich in tradition, but where does it come from?

How has it become the art form as we know it today?

The Origins of Ballet

Ballet started with Italian balletto. The word ballet comes from the term which means “dance”.

Balletto was used to entertain guests at weddings before being brought to France by Catherine de’ Medici when she became Queen of France. It would later be called “ballet” in the French court and opéra-ballet by Lully and Molière.

Many monarchs and aristocrats would also commission ballets for special events. In fact, the Ballet Comique de la Reine was commissioned as a celebration of the marriage of Duke de Joyeuse and Queen Louise of Lorraine’s sister, Marguerite de Vaudemont.

While the origins of ballet are rooted in Renaissance Italy, it was the French and Russian influences that made it a noble pursuit.

Stars like the Russian-born George Balanchine (he was the founder of the New York City Ballet and their Artistic Director for 35 years) would later help ballet find its feet in the United States. Nowadays, the US is home to many famous ballet companies like the Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

There are famous ballet companies and venues all over the world, too. There’s the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet (London), Pacific Northwest Ballet (Seattle), the Bolshoi Ballet (Moscow), Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet (St. Petersburg), Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet (Copenhagen), La Scala Ballet (Milan), the Australian Ballet (Melbourne), the National Ballet of Canada (Toronto), and the Dutch National Ballet (Amsterdam), to name a few.

Find out more about the history of Ballet.

The Codification of Ballet

Did you know…?

Louis XIV was a big fan of dancing and ballet gained a huge boost thanks to the creation of Académie Royale de Danse (the Royal Dance Academy) in 1661.

Ballet was codified with the creation of Pierre Beauchamp’s 5 positions (we’ll cover those later). The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions are the foundation of ballet as we know it today.

Ballet technique wouldn’t be formalised until the 19th century when the Cecchetti method brought the dancer’s anatomy and technique together. The technique is still used by the National Ballet of Canada.

Rejuvenating Ballet

Ballet finally prevailed as romantic ballet became popular. It showed up in a tutu, tights, and pointe shoes. The premiere of the ballet La Sylphide (The Sylph) in 1832 was hugely influential in marking this change. This is when the costumes commonly associated with ballet started appearing and the theatrical performances made use of staged effects.

Russia would take the torch from France and Russian ballet, which had been present in the country for some years, travelled to other countries.

Marius Petipa (a Frenchman who lived almost all of his life in Russia) choreographed some of the greatest masterpieces.

His repertoire, which includes Tchaikovsky classics such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, as well as Don Quixote to the music of Ludwig Minkus, is still performed today.

Popular ballets russes from the 20th century include Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and The Firebird with orchestra music from Stravinsky and Prokofiev.

Even though ballet remains a strict and traditional discipline, ballet is modernising thanks to the talent of choreographers like Maurice Béjart, Benjamin Millepied, Pina Baush, and Rudolf Noureev who are implementing interesting artistry into contemporary ballet.

The fact that dance education is also available to a much more diverse group of people is also helping people from many different backgrounds get dance training.

Why Take Ballet Lessons?

As you’ve probably understood, ballet is the gold standard when it comes to dancing and the masters of ballet are talented athletes and artists.

Ballet is a genuine sport and art form. There are a lot of physical and mental benefits to studying and practising ballet as you’ll see when watching professional dancers in a dance company.

Become More Graceful

When you think of a famous ballerina, you probably imagine graceful pas de deux, entrechats, and pliés. Their posture is magnificent and this is why so many people dream of being able to do the same.

What are the benefits of learning ballet? While it’s good to start young, adults can start learning ballet, too! (Source: Free-Photos)

Classical ballet is the best way to improve your posture. This is one of the first things you’ll learn when you start taking ballet lessons. You’ll become more graceful in everyday life.

Did you know that ballet can even help people who have back problems?

Thanks to stretching and warming up, you’ll build muscle in your back and abs.

Become More Flexible

When you think of a ballet dancer, you probably imagine someone doing the splits or holding their foot next to their head with their legs perfectly straight. You’ll start loosening up right from the moment you start warming up for your first ballet lesson.

Flexibility is useful for avoiding injury and reducing the natural signs of ageing that affects joints and tendons. Flexibility is an important part of ballet but it’s also useful in other styles of dance like modern dance, dance fitness, hip hop dance, Oriental dancing, and the waltz. From your arms to your legs, your back to the tips of your toes, improving your flexibility involves every part of your body.

Don’t push yourself too far! Your body won’t be in the same state every day and you mightn’t be able to do the same stretches you did the day before.

Listen to your body. It’s not a competition and even if you can’t do the splits, that doesn’t mean that you can’t become an exceptional and gracious performer and master a choreographed routine.

Work On Your Brain

When you start learning ballet, you’re also giving your brain a workout by learning the choreography.

During your lessons, you’ll start being able to remember longer and longer routines.
This isn’t just useful when it comes to ballet, it’ll also help if you do ballroom dancing, Cuban salsa, dance fitness, or even tap dancing.

Dancing is an intellectual and technical sport. You can leave your problems at the door when you come to class. However, that doesn’t mean in any way, shape, or form that you’re turning your brain off for the hour. You’ll be too busy working on dance steps to think about anything else.

There are so many reasons to learn ballet!

How Can You Find a Ballet Teacher?

Now that you’re convinced that ballet is for you, it’s time to find the right teacher to get you into the discipline.

Where Should You Look?

There are a lot of places where you can get ballet lessons. From conservatoires and universities to private dance schools and private tutors, when it comes to learning ballet, you’re spoilt for choice!

While some schools require you to start learning ballet from a young age, there are also places where you can find cheap classes for adults.

There are some great places to learn ballet around the country. Of course, there can be quite a difference in terms of cost and the equipment provided. It’s up to you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

How much do group ballet lessons cost? Group classes are a great way to meet new people. (Source: pixabay.com)

The Teacher

When choosing a ballet teacher, you need to consider the following criteria:

  • Qualifications
  • Teaching skills
  • The levels taught
  • Whether the tutor is patient and caring
  • How they motivate their students
  • To what extent the tutor respects the limits set by the student
  • The length of time spent warming up (at least 1/3 of the lesson)
  • Technical and artistic skills

It’s also important to choose classes that fit within your budget. A good way to see if they’re right for you is to check out the school’s end of year show.

Finding the Right Ballet Class for Adults

Anyone can learn to dance! The same is true even for ballet. While it’s difficult to become an acclaimed dancer if you start late, there’s nothing stopping you learning ballet just for fun at local dance studios or by taking part in a workshop. While it’s quite unlikely you’ll be principal dancer or soloist in Giselle with famous dance companies, there’s nothing stopping you performing with a local academy of dance and their end of year showcase in the corps de ballet (the dancers who perform as an ensemble)!

Can You Start Learning Ballet as an Adult?

If you’re asking yourself this question, it’s probably because you’ve heard the following about ballet:

  • You have to start aged 5 or 6
  • You need to study it for years to get results
  • You need to be young and flexible
  • If you don’t learn ballet first, you can’t learn any other styles of dance, etc.

Forget all that! Ballet can be done when you’re young, “old”, big, small, whether you’re a man or a woman, or whether you’re flexible or not.

As long as you’re healthy enough to do it, you can start your ballet training. Old injuries may hinder your progression but you can always talk to your teacher about them.

What are the basics of ballet dancing? Before you start impressing people with your ballet moves, you should learn the basics. (Source: Myriams-Fotos)

Get a Class on the Basic Techniques

If you’ve never studied ballet, it might be worthwhile choosing an adult class covering the basic techniques. If it doesn’t specify, you should be looking for classes for beginners or something similar.

There are sometimes classes for absolute beginners and false beginners, those who may have studied the basics a long time ago.

In some cases, it may have been so long ago that it’s worthwhile going back to the very beginning and covering the 5 positions and how to move your arms.

In general, private dance tutorials will cost you somewhere between £15 and £30 per hour. Rates are usually higher in areas with a high cost of living as teachers and schools have more outgoings, etc.

How to find a ballet class for adults.

The 5 Ballet Positions

Pierre Beauchamp was a renowned court dancer and choreographer and codified the 5 ballet positions that most students will learn if they take lessons for absolute beginners:

  • First position: Put your heels together and point your toes outwards.
  • Second position: Point your feet in opposite directions with twelve inches of space between your two heels.
  • Third position: Place one foot in front of the other so that the heel of the front foot is near the arch.
  • Fourth position: There are two types of fourth position: open and closed. Place one foot about twelve inches in front of the other. Open means that your heels are aligned, while closed means that the heel of your front front foot lines up with the toes of your back foot.
  • Fifth position: Form two parallel lines with your feet. The heel of your front foot touching big toe of the other and the heel of your back foot touching last toe of the your foot.

Private Ballet Tutorials: Why Should You Learn with a Private Tutor?

Would rather do ballet than bachata, Zumba, or flamenco?

There are a number of great reasons for getting a private tutor to teach you:

  • Shyness: No matter what the reason for your shyness, it can be the reason a lot of people never get dance lessons. Since there’s only you and the teacher in your class, there are fewer people to worry about as you learn to dance.
  • A busy schedule: Are you unable to get to the local ballet academy at the same time and place every week? Does your schedule change regularly? A private tutor is usually more flexible in terms of the hours they work and can even teach you in the comfort of your own home. They can work around your schedule.
  • Goals with a deadline: Whether you’re studying for a dance exam, audition, or preparing for an end of year show, a private tutor can help you work towards your goals with regular rehearsal. They can focus on correcting your mistakes and help you make a lot of progress in a short space of time.
  • The tutor’s undivided attention: During a group class, the teacher can’t focus on everyone at the same time and correct their mistakes. During a private class, the tutor will only be focused on you, your posture, and any mistakes you make so that they can help you to improve as well as help you avoid picking up bad habits.
  • A good addition to group classes: Are you taking group classes and would like to make more progress? Extra help from a private tutor could really help you make quick progress.

To find the perfect ballet tutor, make sure you shop around and get a free taster session. On Superprof, a lot of tutors offer the first hour of tuition for free.

How much do private ballet tutorials cost? A tutor can help you with much more than just getting your shoes on. (Source: sobima)

In short:

  • While the origins of ballet are rooted in Renaissance Italy, it was developed in France and Russia. American ballet theatre wouldn’t arrive until much later (San Francisco Ballet was founded over 250 years after Louis XIV’s Royal Dance Academy!).
  • Ballet helps you become more graceful and flexible while also helping you improve your brain.
  • You can find ballet classes in universities, conservatoires, private dance schools. You can also find intensive ballet workshops. The price and quality of lessons can vary. If you get good enough, you could also join a ballet company.
  • Never studied ballet before? Not a problem! You can start learning ballet at any age. Just start with some basic ballet techniques and don’t expect to be touring internationally any time soon.
  • A private tutor is useful for students who need to work on their confidence and anyone with an awkward schedule.

If ballet isn’t for you, you should also check out some of the other dance disciplines, such as contemporary dance, jazz that our private tutors are offering!

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