Here are some amazing and interesting facts about ballet that you may or may not have ever known about. Ballet has been around for a long time and is one of the oldest surviving dance forms to date and it just keeps getting better and better, so you should find these interesting facts about ballet a good read.
Ballet is often described as a graceful and delicate art form. It is stereotyped as feminine and sometimes even called easy. But there is much more going on than meets the eye in the often much misunderstood ballet world.
Interesting Facts About Ballet
Ballet Is Very Old!
Ballet has been going since the early 1500s. It started off in Italy as a form of entertainment for the courts and then was made popular by the French when Catherine de Medici of Italy to the King of France, Henry II in 1533.
This led to a mixture of French and Italian terms used to describe various ballet steps.
Ballet Used To Be Mixed With Opera
Ballet was not always the pure dance and instrumental music that we see today. The earliest ballet performances mixed the dancing with operatic performances and even some drama as part of royal entertainment.
The beginnings of what we now see as ballet was seen in the movements and certain segments of the performances.
Ballet Dancers Used To Cover Their Faces With Masks
In the earliest forms of ballet, the dancers wore lavish costumes and the movements were a lot simpler and more reserved than we see today, as their costumes didn’t allow them much freedom of movement.
Ballet has its roots in Italian Masquerades, Mummer’s plays, and Commedia dell’arte which was a form of Italian theatre that involved masked characters and emphasized movement to tell a story.
King Louis XIV Was A Ballet Dancer
As a devoted patron and fan of dance, King Louis XIV, one of the most famous kings of France, founded The Royal Ballet Academy and The Royal Music Academy. If it surprises you that a king was a ballet dancer, you might also be interested to learn that in those days only men did ballet.
In many parts of Europe, it is very improper and even illegal for women to dance publicly. Female roles in ballet performances were played by young male dancers in wigs and other costumes. Women only started dancing more in the late 1600s.
Ballet Has Five Main Foot Positions That Have Stood The Test Of Time
While the creation of the five ballet foot positions has been attributed to a few different individuals, they were largely codified by Pierre Beauchamps in France during Louis XIV’s reign.
One of their main purposes is to keep dancers balanced by allowing them to evenly rest the weight of their bodies between their feet, adding to the grace of motion.
A Male Ballet Dancer Can Lift 1.5 Tons In One Performance
The combined weight of the various dancers that a male ballet dancer will lift up during some performances and hold up in the air on stage can be as much as 1.5 tons.
To do this these dancers have to stay fit and work their body strength in their arms, legs, and torso. It takes a very powerful man to dance in a ballet production.
Dancers Danced On Their Toes For The First Time In 1795
The first dancers that were thought to dance on their toes did so with an invention by Charles Didelot in 1795.
His “flying machine” lifted dancers upward, allowing them to stand on their toes before leaving the ground.
This lightness and ethereal quality were so well received by audiences that, as a result, choreographers began to look for ways to incorporate more pointe work into their pieces.
As ballet progressed into the 19th century, the emphasis on technical skill increased, as did the desire to dance on one’s toes without the aid of wires.
Marie Taglioni is often credited as being the first to dance on pointe but like many things in the early history of Ballet, no one knows for sure.
In 1832, when Marie Taglioni first danced the entire La Sylphide en pointe, her shoes were nothing more than modified satin slippers; the soles were made of leather and the sides and toes were darned to help the shoes hold their shape.
Because the shoes of this period offered no support, dancers would pad their toes for comfort and rely on the strength of their feet and ankles for support. (painful)
Pointe Shoes Are Hand Made
Even in today’s modern times of automation and machine building, all pointe shoes are still made entirely by hand.
Sometimes they are custom made to fit an individual’s foot perfectly, especially in the case of prima ballerinas.
Professional Ballerinas Can Go Through 3 Pairs Of Pointe Shoes In A Week
In professional performance and practice, a lot of wear and tear happens on a ballerina’s shoes, and most pointe shoes have a shelf life of about 12 hours of use.
The leaps and turns, as well as all the footwork done in these shoes quickly, wears through the soft materials, and in extreme cases, a dancer may need a new pair of shoes after just an hour of intense practice. Every time a ballet dancer jumps en pointe, three times their body weight is carried on the tip of their big toe. Every time a ballet dancer jumps en pointe, three times their body weight is carried on the tip of their big toe.
The tip of Pointe shoes is a rigid box made of densely packed layers of fabric and cardboard hardened by glue and every time a ballet dancer jumps en pointe, three times their body weight is carried on the tip of their big toe. This explains why the shoes don’t last.
Early Ballet Dancers Danced In Heels
I’ll bet you didn’t know this one of those interesting facts about ballet. The first Ballet shoes worn by the dancers of the Royal Academy of Dance were heeled slippers.
These shoes were quite difficult to wear and you couldn’t jump in them or do a lot of movement. The heeled slipper did not stay around for very long thankfully. No one knows exactly when the heel was dropped and ballerinas started wearing non-heeled shoes, but the abandonment of the heel meant that the dancers could do far more than ever before. It is rumored that Marie Camargo of the Paris Opera Ballet may have been the first dancer to take the heels off her slippers.
The new flat-bottomed slippers spread quickly throughout the Ballet community as dancers were liberated by the abandonment of the heel. The new flat-bottomed slippers worn during the 18th century are much like the demi-pointe rehearsal and learning shoes worn by young ballerinas today.
They were secured to the feet with ribbons around the ankle and were pleated under the toes for a better fit. The new slippers allowed for a full extension and enabled the dancer to use the whole foot.
Ballerinas Are High Flyers
During an average performance, dancers jump an impressive 900 feet into the air with all the dancers combined.
Ballet Dancers Are Super Fit
To perform an entire ballet the dancer would need the same amount of energy as if they were playing two full football matches or running 18 miles.
Making A Tutu Is Hard Work And Very Expensive
All professional tutus are handmade and it takes between 60 and 90 hours of work. The tutu will use about 120 yards of ruffled material and can cost around $1500.
It is considered an honor and a privilege to receive a tutu when dancing in a ballet company.
The intricate and delicate details of many of the costumes mean that it’s impossible to wash them between performances. Instead, costumes are hung up to air between shows and sprayed with freshener.
An average ballerina will wear between 50 and 150 tutus in her career.
Ballerinas Love To Spin
Most prima ballerinas can perform the very difficult to achieve 32 fouette turns in a row on the same spot. The record I believe is over 100.
When dancers turn so much the pointe shoes create so much friction that they become hot to the touch. After this, the shoe is considered worn out and is replaced.
Most ballet theatres have a blue light shining behind the audience. This is so that the dancers can focus or ‘spot’ while they are turning and in this way, they always know where the front of the stage is.
Ballet Is Hard
Despite how easy and effortless ballet looks it is in fact a very difficult field to succeed in, especially as a female.
Only a very small percentage of dancers make it to the big time and it takes years and years of hard work, dedication, and commitment.
It is also essential that you have all the right attributes like a strong but slender physique, beautiful legs, and feet, a flexible body and spine….. the list goes on.
If you have any other interesting facts about ballet to add, please feel free to comment below.