To the Young Dancers: Why Appreciating Ballet History


Dear Young Dancer,

If one of us builds a time machine to go to the 15th Century Italian Renaissance, you probably will not recognize anything ballet-like. Although, that's when Ballet started.

I love how ballet evolves over the years. Starting as a court dance, it was always such an elegant and unique dance, and I think you should love it too.

Have you ever wondered how Ballet grew from a court dance to a truly theatrical art form? Why are the steps in French? Where did pointe shoes come from? Why the 'classics' have not died? Why do people still go and watch Ballet?

The truth is, just as evolution works, Ballet keeps growing and changing every day. Many choreographers can create incredible things, things that dancers don't believe they can do with their bodies. Audiences get to watch both the classics and new productions every season. And that's the beauty of Ballet.

For you, the young dancer, it is important to know these new works, but it is even more important to know all the history behind it. When you are performing a character or a certain role on a modern choreography, your main goal should always relate to making an impact on your audience. Yes, your technique matters a lot these days, but I am sure ninety percent of the people sitting in the theater did not notice your not-above-90-degrees developé during Aurora's entrance.

Audiences these days love to see a brilliant dancer. Technically, ballerinas and male dancers are expected to be clean, precise and correct. It is fantastic when a dancer can do something no other could do, like huge extensions or more than six pirouettes. But this is not everything your viewers want to see from you. They want to leave inspired with the story you just performed to them.

The only way to not just 'do steps' in Ballet is to know the story behind it, from the Corp de Ballet to the Principal roles. How were this ballets and musics created in the first place? What thing inspired the choreographer to create this? What path should I take this character to? What is her or his story?

So, with everything said, grab a book (Maybe Apollo's Angels, by Jennifer Homans, which is currently on my To-Read list) and read about how the steps were created or how women began using tutus; watch old videos or documentaries; search historic Ballet icons like Nureyev and Fonteyn, Baryshnikov, Carla Fracci, Maya Plisetskaya, Alicia Alonso, Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova and many others; investigate what inspired the choreographer to create a unique, new piece. You will notice that back then, it never really mattered if you did six pirouettes or you have an 180 degrees penché.

Remember, your audience comes to see you and your fellow dancers perform and tell a story. They are not coming to watch a circus.

I can't wait for your generation to learn more about this art form. Believe me, Ballet History is beautiful just as the art form is itself.

Tell me all the details, I can't wait to learn them again.