The Spotters Guide To: Ballet

We will soon be welcoming Flash Mob; where a whole host of dance styles will burst onto the stage in a blaze of colour and light. To prepare we have compiled a guidebook of dance styles just for you! The Dance Ambassador Champions have taken it upon ourselves to wade through the undergrowth of dance genres, set up camp and speak only in hushed tones we mimicked from Bill Oddie. Armed with notebook, foldable desk and a paraffin lamp our champions observed dance styles in their natural habitat; origins, costumes and key members of the pack you may recognise. This is our Spotters Guide to Dance.

Our second blog it by explorer Johanna Hadley who explores the mysterious land of Ballet

Origins
The origins of Ballet come from the Italian Renaissance court dances of the 15th and 16th Century and the style quickly spread to France. The ‘court ballet’ was funded by rich aristocrats for their political needs and personal entertainment. King Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique, where the Paris Opera Ballet developed from – this is why Ballet steps are always in French. Ballet quickly began to spread across Europe to Holland, and Russia, before now, being found throughout the world.

Ballet has now progressed even further into ‘neoclassical’ by the prolific pioneer of this style, George Balanchine.

English National Ballet's Swan Lake
Key Characteristics
Key Characteristics of Ballet are by specific movements such as the arabesque (where the dancer is standing on one leg, and the other leg is extended behind in the air), the feet and arm positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th), and pirouettes (where the dancer performs multiple turns on one leg). Ballet dancers always stand with excellent posture, turn out their legs and feet, and point their toes.

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Often stereotyped into pretty pink frilly dresses where dancers leap and twirl around on a stage, when the truth is in fact far from it. Ballet dancers need to be as strong as athletes and as flexible as gymnasts. The professional ballet industry is notoriously difficult to become a part of – more so than any other style of dance – and requires years of intense training from as young as possible (usually serious training can commence at age eight, with full-time training by age eleven)
Common Costumes
The Classical Tutu is probably the most famous type of dress worn by a ballet dancer. It is made up of a bodice attached to multiple layers of tulle netting (all pleated and sewn together), which sticks out horizontally from the dancers body – and it is normally elaborately decorated with crystals and colourful fabrics. A slight variation on the Classical Tutu is the Romantic Tutu, but for this the layers of tulle are much longer and so it doesn’t stick out (an example of a Romantic Tutu can be seen in the Ballet Giselle – interestingly though, the Romantic Tutu was created long before the Classical Tutu!).

Another common costume for ballet is the leotard, as although tutus are very pretty on stage – they aren’t very practical for class. Tutus aren’t worn by students in normal everyday ballet classes – unless a pre-professional student at vocational dance school, or a professional ballerina, practicing in preparation for a stage performance where one will be worn.

Hair must always be in a traditional ‘ballet’ bun or a French roll for traditional ballet performances or ballet class.

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Specialist Footwear
Pointe shoes are worn by ballet dancers which allows them to stand on the ends of their toes. However dancers must be at least twelve years old (so that their bones have started maturing) and they have the strength and correct ‘ballet’ technique before starting pointe work, as it can be very dangerous causing permanent damage if undertaken before any of the above requirements are in place. Pointe shoes have ribbons that tie neatly around the ankle, and are made of many layers of canvas, hessian, paper and glue (not wood, as many people incorrectly believe!). Pointe shoes are made in a similar way to papier-mâché where the layers are gradually built up, and glued. Pointe shoes were invented to give the illusion of the ballerina floating! Another variation on the pointe shoe is the ‘soft block’ or ‘Demi Pointe’ shoe, which is made very similar to the pointe shoe, but it is not strong enough to stand on your toes in. Soft Blocks are used to make the transition into pointe shoes easier for a dancer, and make your feet very strong!

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Another style of footwear is commonly known as ‘flatties’ – these can be made in canvas, satin or leather, and can be made with a whole or split sole. Flatties can be worn by male or female dancers of any age.
Dancers you may know
Darcey Bussell, Carlos Acosta, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Tamara Rojo.

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