Apollo's Angels: A Short History of Ballet January 06 2023


When Florentine Catherine de Medici married french king Henry II in 1533, she introduced early dance styles into court life in France. Catherine brought the Italian influence to the French courts. She introduced chariots, floats, and parades, all of which demonstrated meaningful stories.

Catherine de Medici by Francois Clouet

Her sons, the French kings Charles IX and Henri III shared their mother’s passion for spectacle and theatrical events. Sixteenth century France suffered many civil and religious conflicts and the kings believed they can use these events as a political tool to soothe the upheavals that were occurring at this time.

[IMAGE] Catherine de Medici by Francois Clouet (1560)

In 1570, Charles IX established the Academie de Poesie et de Musique where he brought a circle of distinguished French poets, players, and musicians together. Most of these Academicians were influenced by Neoplatonism. Meshing their Neoplatonic ideas and religious beliefs, they attempted to remake the Christian church through theatre and art as they saw art a chance to break men from his dirty earthly ties and elevate them to bring him closer to his spiritual aspirations.



In 1581, the researches of the Academie de Poesie et de Musique came to fruition in the Ballet Comique de la Reine. The Ballet Comique was a celebration of the marriage of the queen’s sister, Marguerite de Vaudemont. It was a brilliant success and the first ballet of which there is a complete printed account. 

The operformance was not just a stylish walking. It included poetry, dialogue, singing, and orchestral music as well as dance. It was choreographed by Beaujoyeulx and performed by members of the court. This geography incorporated structural patterns and a geometric arrangement of the dancers; these innovations contributed to the development of theatrical dance and court ballet in France.



Ballet became even more central during the Thirty-Years War (1618-48) as the French queen, Marie de Medici, held ballets every Sunday.

Her son, King Louis XIII (1601-43) carried the tradition. Under Louis XIII, however, the purpose of ballet changed as he and his first minister, Cardinal de Richelieu were more concerned with power than spiritual aspirations. They used court ballet to magnify the grandeur of the king and emphasize his power over the realm.

Portrait of Louis XIV

Previously, Ballet was traditionally performed in palaces, parks, and other large venues. There was no stage, no stationary backdrops or wings. However, during Louis XIII’s reign, this gradually changed.

[IMAGE] The very famous portrait of king Louis XIV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (ca.1701)

The stage was elevated several inches from the floor, and wings, curtains, trapdoors, backdrops, and machinery were fixed in place. All these theatrical additions were aimed to surround the kind with an aura of enchantment and emphasize his grandeur.

Louis XIII designed costumes, wrote ballets, and often took the leading role in court productions. He liked to play the Sun and Apollo, portraying himself as a god on earth and the father of his people.

However, no monarch placed more emphasis on ballet than Louis XIII’s son and heir, Louis XIV. He devoted himself so passionately to dancing. He made his debut at the early age of thirteen and performed in over forty major productions.



Under Louis XIV, dance became much more than a blunt instrument that displayed royal opulence and power. He made it integral to life at court and a requirement of aristocratic identity. He refined court etiquette and distilled it with the rules and conventions governing ballet.

Scene from le film "Le Roi Danse" (2000) by Gerard Corbiau, presenting the life of composer J.B. Lully as a natural ally of king Louis XIV's love for dance. 



The popularity of dancing gave rise to The Royal Academy of Dance, which Louis founded in 1661. This new academy was very different, in both spirit and form, from the earlier sixteenth-century example as it was more focused on etiquette and ballet as a social dance. Music in these ballets were also eliminated.

Only those people of nobility, whom the king personally chose were allowed to become members. Members were exempt from guild fees, regulations and taxes. Those members also held a high status in society and had special access to the king.

Jean-Baptiste Lully Vintage Print S.XIX

Some were opposed to the king’s new Academy. They believed dance is none other than a visual depiction of music and accused the academy’s members of tearing dance away from music and thus robbing it of all meaning.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Vintage print of Jean-Baptiste Lully - a central figure in the development of ballet music during the reign of Louis XIV

The supporters of the new Academy, however, noted that in fact, dance had outgrown the music and that its new and proper purpose was to elevate the nobility to serve the king.

Some of the ballet masters during these times were Pierre Beauchamps and his student Guillaume-Louis Pecour. It was, in fact, along with Pierre Beauchamps that Louis created the famous five ballet positions.

The dances were primarily performed solo or duet and by men. Meanwhile, female dancers were confined to social events and queen’s ballets. Dancers in the ballets wore Clothing and shoes that were of the latest fashions and that were made of the most expensive materials. Hairstyles and jewelry followed suit. Dancers also wore masks or half masks.



Not only did Louis want to promote the Absolute Monarchy, but he also wanted to cause French culture to become more present and prominant in other parts of Europe. It was in this spirit that several different dance notation systems started emerging in the seventeenth century, but Beauchamps’s prevailed. Moreover, Beauchamps didn’t publish his work and his system was eventually taken up and published in 1700 by the Parisian ballet master, Raoul Auger Feuillet. Feuillet’s notation became enormously influential. It was translated into English and German and was used by ballet masters working across Europe well into the eighteenth century.

In this notation, Feuillet focused on what was considered to be the most important and noble dances, and what was referred to as 'la belle danse'. One interesting fact about La belle danse and ballet in general during that era is that it was exclusively performed by men.



Jean-Philippe Rameau vintage print SXIX

During this time, religious groups had opposing opinions to ballet. In 1666, the Catholic Church came against the ballet claiming that dancing does nothing but excites the passions.

Consequently, dancers were excommunicated from the Catholic Church and even denied a Christian burial. Despite this, ballet’s popularity did not decline and its history continued to unfold.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Vintage print of composer Jean-Philippe Rameau who created a large amount of music for ballet and was considered the succesor of J.B. Lully

The only Catholic order that was not against the ballet was the Jesuits. They saw ballet as a way to both inspire and convert believers. Jesuit schools not only taught dance, but also wrote their own ballets.

Through these ballets, they had hoped to expose believers to the supernatural. Through the influence King Louis had in propagating French culture throughout Europe,



It was during the course of Louis XIV’s reign (1643-1715) that the Italian operas were introduced to the French court. These operas were tailored to fit French tastes by including ballet and this is when the genre Comédie-ballet was born. Unlike court ballet, Comédie-ballet was based on a plot and contained a spoken play along with the music and dance.

The first example of Comédie-ballet is considered to be Les fâcheux. It contained a spoken play written by Jean-Baptiste Moliere and a dance choreographed by Pierre Beauchamp (1622-1673), and Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632—1687). It was performed in honor of King Louis XIV who was extremely pleased. Other comedie-ballets followed, as the ballet de cour gradually disappeared and gave way to other theatrical forms.



The Royal Academy of Music which would later be known as the Paris Opera was founded in 1669. This academy was created to present opera, which was then understood to include a dance element. It was in The Royal Academy and under the direction of Lully, that the subsequent development of French ballet and opera unfolded. Ballet would then continue to be known as a virtually obligatory component of the various forms of French opera from then on.

La Fontaine

Mademoiselle De Lafontaine (1655-1738) danced in 1681 in the first performance that included women in a public ballet, in her debut as premiere danseuse in Le Triomphe de l'Amour.

There was growing appeal of ballet in Paris. This was reflected in the success of opéra-ballets, of which the most celebrated were André Campra’s L’Europe galante made in 1697 and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes galantes made in 1735.

In the years following the establishment of this academy, social and professional dancing parted ways. The court and ballet were now independent of each other and the stage was no longer exclusive to nobility.

Dancing was also no longer exclusive to males and women could now perform. The first principal female dancer, Mlle La Fontaine, appeared in 1681. Gradually she and her successors became nearly as well-known and respected as male dancers such as Michel Blondy and Claude Balon



By the time Louis XIV’s died in 1715, classical ballet had spread across Europe. This, however, soon turned sour. In the course of the eighteenth century, French ballet was criticized and attacked everywhere. In fact, Ballet still represented the French aristocratic style, which made it a target for criticism for people who aspired to create a different and less rigidly hierarchical society. Ballet masters and dancers thus had to radically restructure their art.



John Weaver A collection of ball dances (1706)

During the Enlightenment, ballet started spreading to Europe. Charles I (1600—1649) and his son Charles II (1630-1685) were heavily influenced by the French court model. They sent representatives to study their practices and hoped to emulate their theatrical and ceremonial events. However, the English court was notoriously lacking in social etiquette. They hated overly formal grand ballets and instead preferred more lively and comic styles.

[IMAGE] John Weaver's book "A Collection of Ball-Dances Performed at Court" (1706)

John Weaver, born to a dance master in 1673, translated and published Feuillet’s notation In 1706. He devoted himself to reforming the French ballet and creating a version of it that is more suitable to the English taste and civic culture. This is how the English pantomime was born.

John transformed the purpose of the ballet. Rather than elevating social hierarchies as was in France, ballet was now used to eliminate them. He also believed that dance would cause men to become morally good on the inside.

The first example of this genre was staged in 1717 at the Drury Lane Theater and was entitled The Loves of Mars and Venus. It was a huge success.

Although England had much influence on ballet in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ballet on the English stage remained a foreign art that was mainly imported from France and Italy. France remained the main contributor to ballet.



Ballet slowly but steadly emerged into pantomime. The dawn of the Enlightenment brought about a focus on man himself. These ballets focused on everyday life, stripping away the veneer of nobility and high society. Ballets became dark and serious dramas that brought up subjects such as murder, betrayal, and incest. 



London’s commercial theaters continued attracting French dancers during the eighteenth century by offering them higher salaries and a more freewheeling artistic milieu. One of which was Marie Salle (1707—1756).

Salle made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1727 in the serious court style. However, once arrived in London, she set aside her formal training and focused instead on solo dances that mingled pantomime and free-form movements. She was a huge success among the English audience. She composed many of her own dances, and in 1734, by the English king and queen’s demands, she performed Pygmalion.

Marie Salle by Nicolas Lancret

Marie Salle by Nicolas Lancret - French dancer Salle challenged the male-dominated theatrical world playing a pivotal role in the creation of Ballet d'Action

Salle eventually returned to the Paris Opera in 1735 where she worked with the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and performed dances in many of Rameau’s most successful productions, including Les Indes Galantes. However, when she tried to dance at the more unrestrained Comedie Italienne, the king threatened to have her arrested. Salle retired in 1741 and died in Paris in 1756. She was one of the first women to accomplish this much in the world of ballet and to set her talents against the French convention.

One of the first women to also break the conventions and inadvertently shift the course of ballet was the Parisian Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo (1710—1770), known as La Camargo. Marie was technically brilliant and was able to successfully perform the jumps, beats, and other steps that were traditionally assigned to men. Marie also broke the conventions by wearing shorter skirts and shifting away from modesty and toward a bolder and more seductive way of moving.

Other women also emerged as the main dancers in England. Ballet, for them, served as an escape from their overbearing husbands or fathers. It also provided a higher social status for women of lower birth. Many of these women danced to support their families. Hilaire-Germaine-Edgar Degas illustrated this in his painting The Rehearsal (1873), shown right below.

 Degas Ballet Rehearsal



Ballet remained subservient to vocal music at the Paris Opéra until the 1770s, but ballet masters had been experimenting with a genre in which dance was allied with mime to form a new type of theatrical work known as the ballet d’action. Unlike previous genres, Ballet d’action mainly focused on expressing emotion through expression, free movement, and pantomime. The ballet d’action origin can be traced back at least to 1717, when John Weaver produced The Loves of Mars and Venus in London. 

Jean-Georges Noverre (1727- 1810), was a revolutionary French ballet master who wrote an important and sprawling book, 'Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets'. Noverre’s career spanned Europe. He worked in Paris, Lyon, Berlin, London, Stuttgart, Vienna, and Milan.

Prior to Noverre, ballets were large spectacles that mainly focused on high court etiquette, costumes, and scenery and not on the physical and emotional expression of the dancers. Noverre however, stripped away all traces of social veneer and artistic constraints in order to create a more natural and raw spectacle. He accomplished this by removing all distracting symbols of artifice such as wigs and masks.



Jean-Georges Noverre

As long as Paris was fashionable, the ballet was in demand by European kings and cultural leaders who attempted to graft French taste and ballet onto their courts and cities. In fact, after his extraordinarily prolific years in Lyon, Noverre moved on to serving as ballet master in Stuttgart in 1760 on demand of Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemberg. In Stuttgart, Noverre successfully put his inventive ideas into practice. He produced a series of major works in which he realized his personal vision of the ballet d’action. The most celebrated of these productions was Médée et Jason, in which Gaétan Vestris played Jason. 

[IMAGE] Portrait of Jean-Georges Noverre by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (1764)

In spite of his triumphs in Stuttgart, Ballet, however, hadn’t yet succeeded in establishing a foothold in the German artistic life. It remained a guest art, which was occasionally washed away in waves of anti-French German nationalism.

Noverre also introduced his innovative approach to Vienna. Before his arrival, the French influence in Vienna was strong as they were still performing the French serious style. Similar to what he had accomplished in Stuttgart, Noverre, however, soon reversed the course of ballet in Vienna; he asked dancers to remove their wigs and masks and enact serious dramas in pantomime.

The next destination for Noverre was Milan. Upon arrival, however, he ran smack into a proud civic culture with a long-established opera and ballet tradition of its own. If Noverre had failed in Milan, he still had one last prospect: the Paris Opera.

Even before Noverre’s arrival, ballet at the Opera had begun to show signs of change as costumes were more simple as opposed to the aristocratic costumes worn previously. However, despite Noverre’s efforts to reform the French ballet and to dismantle the aristocratic principles and etiquette that controlled dance, the formal steps, poses, and the overall aristocratic look of ballet remained fully intact.




In the late 1770s, the Paris Opera was in crisis. The Opera, like the state itself, was struggling financially. The problem was mainly due to their rival Comédie Italienne, which was drawing audiences from the Opera at an alarming rate. To address this situation, the city of Paris appointed the Jacques de Vismes to revive the Paris Opera.

[IMAGE] Portrait of Maximilien Gardel playing the harp by Nicolas Francois Regnault (1746-1810)

Jacques brought in foreign singers and Italian operas and programmed pantomime ballets with low melodramatic themes that were more suited to the boulevard than to the king’s theater. This erosion of the high noble style and the race to more popular forms did not come out of nowhere. It reflected the precipitate decline of the monarchy in French society.

Maximilien Gardel (1741-1787), who had supported and then overtaken Noverre, was quick to seize the opportunity. He spent the next ten years of his life staging highly successful “vaudeville pantomimes”.

Meanwhile, Louis XVI was indifferent to opera and ballet. He left the Opera to his queen who was hardly familiar with the aristocratic ways. As a result, the customs and etiquette that had governed the Opera since its inception noticeably frayed. Seating arrangements fell into disarray as Patrons were becoming more concerned with sightlines than with the social geography of the theater.



The onset of the Revolution in France in 1789 produced profound changes in the word of ballet. The Revolution reinforced the idea of real life themes in dance. The absolute monarchy was rejected and costumes were simple as opposed to the aristocratic costumes previously worn.

The Paris Opera gradually became a staging ground for revolutionary festivals. These revolutionary festivals repeated and created mythic moments of the Revolution to convert the public to new ideals and new arrangements of power.

Women one again took center stage. In fact, most of Gardel’s ballets during the revolution incorporated a group of women dancers that represented the corps de ballet. These women were dressed in simple white tunics that would become powerful symbols of a corruption-free and greed-free nation.



Dance halls became increasingly popular. They were over six hundred dance halls in Paris. Most of which were packed day and night. The Paris Opera, languishing theatrically, took full advantage of this and held lavish masked balls, which drew large crowds from across the social spectrum.

Vienesse Waltz

At these balls, a new dance called the Waltz was a favorite. In past social and theatrical dances such as the Minuet, a man and a woman would not touch except to hold hands. In the waltz, by contrast, couples embraced and touched freely.

The waltz definitely opened a vast new range of compositional possibilities as it offered dancers erotic freedom and a sense of release from old constraints. As a result, Ballet masters couldn’t ignore the influence of this dance. They absorbed its pulse and romantic embrace and incorporated it into ballet dancing.



When the Terror subsided following the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, the Opera resumed its activity without missing a beat. For a moment, it seemed as if the revolutionary fury against ballet as an aristocratic art had been nothing but a passing storm as the Paris Opera began staging old-styled ballets such as Télémaque and Psyché. Parallelly, Pierre Gardel, who was still chief ballet master at the theater fell into a long and hadn’t produced anything new for several years. 

It wasn’t until after Napoleon came to power in 1800 that Gardel finally broke his silence with a ballet called La Dansomanie. This production was an instant sensation and remained a popular staple in the Opera repertory until 1826. 



Pierre Gardel 1828

When Napoleon was crowned emperor of the French, he seemed to be turning back the clock. In fact, during the Revolution and the relaxation of royal controls, the number of theaters in the capital had exploded.

Napoleon, however, wanted to restore ballet and opera to their former grandeur and he swiftly shut down all but eight theaters.

[IMAGE] Pierre Gardel (1828)

During his reign, Napoleon also paid close attention to the Paris Opera, which he placed under the direct authority of the Police. Each and every ballet had to be personally approved by his trusted deputy Joseph Fouche. The plays and performers were also closely monitored by police, who would write regular reports of any misleads.

This was met by a strong push to rationalize artistic practices on the basis of merit rather than other dubious criteria such as connections and sexual favors. Juries and committees were established to protect artists from favoritism and to ensure fair chances.



Marie Taglioni Playbill Theatre Royal London 1837

One of the most dramatic consequences of the French Revolution for dance had to do with the image of the male dancer as men went from being paragons of ballet to pariahs chased from the stage.

From this period, emerged one of the most influential ballerinas who ever lived Marie Taglioni (1804-1884). Marie’s father was a ballet master for the court opera in Vienna. Despite lacking the correct posture and physique, Marie set out to transform the world of ballet. She trained tirelessly for at least four to six hours a day striving to align her posture similarly to Greek statuary.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Original playbill announcement for a performance of Marie Taglioni at Theatre Royal in London, 1837, in La Sylphide.

Marie’s intensive training gave her unusual strength and endurance. Her performance, however, was still characterized by a soft aura of femininity and grace. This combination had thrust ballet into two seemingly opposite directions: simplicity and virtuosity. In addition, Marie was the first to dance en pointe in pink tights and a shorter skirt.

When Marie made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1827, she was received with tremendous praise. Her performance in the ballet La Sylphide during the Romantic period marked a shift in gender roles in the ballet world as women stole the spotlight. She had indeed revolutionized the world of classical ballet.

Marie’s radical effect on the French ballet can be reflected through paintings and lithographs made during that period. These pieces of art illustrated the strength required as well as the femininity included in ballet of this time. Edgar Degas’s paintings The Dancing Class, Dance Class at the Opera, The Dance Class, and The Star perfectly illustrate the transformation in style which had taken place.

 Degas The Dancing Class (1870)

 Degas' painting "The Dancing Class" (1870)



In 1830, the revolution returned to Paris as angry crowds rejected the rigid king Charles X (1757-1836). Charles finally abdicated and fled into exile, making way for his more liberal-minded cousin, the Duke d’Orleans (1773-1850), who would later be referred to as Louis-Philippe I.

Louis was different from past kings. He prioritized economic prosperity and hard work. His new regime’s impact on dance was immediate. In 1831, the Paris Opera was placed under the private management of a “director-entrepreneur,” who wanted to throw it into the marketplace and make it a viable commercial enterprise that suited the public taste.



Manuscript poem for Fanny Elssler by Hermann Rollett

The world changed fast after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The base of the Parisian theatregoing public was broadening with the rise of a wealthy middle class.

Meanwhile, the younger generation rejected the neoclassical preferences of their elders and surrendered to the growing vogue for Romanticism.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Manuscript poem by German poet Hermann Rollett (1819-1904) dedicated to Fanny Elssler

Romantic ballet is a genre of ballet that evolved in the early 19th century. In contrast to classical ballet and its emphasis on form, Romantic ballet highlighted emotion and storytelling. One of the main characteristics of the Romantic Ballet Style is the romantic tutu.

Romantic ballet also foregrounded female dancers. Many ballerinas raised to fame such as the Viennese ballerina Fanny Eissler. Eissler was famous for her colorful Gypsy dances and her performance was known to be earthly and sensual.



August Bournonville (1805-1879) was an outstanding choreographer, teacher, and theorist of dance. Born to a French father and a Swedish mother, Bournonville received French training from the famous dancer Auguste Vestris.

In Paris, Bournonville absorbed the spirit and aesthetics of Romanticism, which dominated European culture in the first part of the nineteenth century. He opted, however, for spending his life in Copenhagen, in the Royal Danish Ballet, which he directed from 1830 until his death and for which he created over sixty ballets. The rise of the Danish school of ballet is also inextricably linked to August.

August's school and style of dance enjoy a prominence far exceeding anything they achieved in his own lifetime and his ballets, especially his version of La Sylphide (1836), are now performed worldwide.



Anna Pavlova Dying Swan

Until 1689, ballet in Russia was nonexistent. It wasn't until the rise of the tsar of Russia, Peter the Great that Russian society opened up to the West. Peter started adopting and implementing European, especially French culture in Russia. As a result, Russian classical ballet emerged in St. Petersburg. 

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Superstar Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in The Dying Swan

Wealthy Russian czars used their wealth to bring foreign talent to teach and perform in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 1801, the French-trained ballet master Charles-Louis Dielot was appointed to direct the Imperial ballet in St. Petersburg.

In 1847, Marius Petipa arrived in St. Petersburg from Paris. Although from Italy, he held strong French influence and his ballets were mistakenly Parisian. Marius dominated the Russian ballet from 1870 to 1903, virtually replenishing the repertoire with ballets of his own. Several of these ballets have survived to form the basic ballet classics into the 21st century. Some of which are Swan Lake (1895), The Sleeping Beauty (1890), and The Nutcracker (1892).

Once in Russia, both foreign and domestic talent began developing a Russian style of ballet, which separated ballet from opera to allow for more focus on the movement. By the early 1900s, the Russian ballet had become its own force. It went beyond the Russian borders and even started infiltrating Paris.



Mikhail Baryshnikov

From Russia came the impulse that reanimated ballet in whole western Europe. For the ballet season in 1909, famed art patron Sergey Diaghilev established the first Russian touring company in Paris. The company was called Ballets Russes and would later tour the world, spreading the word of ballet.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Mikhail Baryshnikov - one of the star dancers of The Ballet Russes

The Ballet Russes of Paris produced some of the most influential dancers including Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The company was also responsible for embracing the New York City Ballet when the American company did a tour in Russia, which resulted in the explosion of ballet in America as well as throughout the world.



Ballet had previously grown in societies that embraced and appreciated the nobility very much in contrast to America’s love of equality for all men. Ballet’s history had also been closely linked to catholicism while America held Puritan values. Further still, ballet had always been state-supported. Its purpose was to elevate kings and promote their power. However, America had been founded to free its citizens from the oppressive rule that had dominated European life. The arts in America were considered a private entity that is independent of the state.

Alicia Markova & Anton Dolin Signed Photo 1944

During the first and second World Wars, there was an influx of talented individuals who have fled Nazi and Soviet regimes, migrated to America. These individuals brought with them their artistic ideas.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Star dancers Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin (1944)

Following the Cold War, the government became more involved in American society. It began to promote the arts in America. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the National Cultural Center were established. These factors all contributed to the rise of Ballet in America.



The American millionaire, John Rockefeller, organized a ballet company, called the American Ballet Caravan. Although this company did not last long, it was responsible for the establishment of the famous New York City Ballet. 

In order to fund the company, those responsible realized that they had to become relevant to the American culture. Ballet was thus brought down to make it relatable to the common American. Those responsible for these companies also saw that ballet had to be relevant to future generations, namely children. They started offering free ballet performances for children to view. By the mid-1960’s classical ballet completely disappeared.



Isadora Duncan

The 1970s witnessed a huge emphasis on self-expression, so many changes were brought to the world of ballet. The new generation of ballet choreographers pressed to merge classical and contemporary dance forms and ballet became mixed with rock and roll, film, and popular culture. As a result, Modern ballet was born.

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Celebrated American-French ballerina Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) who was highly acclaimed in Europe and died tragicaly in 1927.

The Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov brought modern ballet to new levels. Ballet became associated with natural, freeing movements, with a more relaxed technique. Instead of pointe shoes, ballet shoes are worn on the feet and the knees are bent rather than straight in many of the steps. As modern ballet evolved and spread, classical ballet started gradually declining



In the present day, many of those knowledgeable in classical ballet have died. There is now little to no familiarity with the art.

Contemporary dancers seem unable to hold an audience and many see ballet as a dying art that is not relatable to the cultures of today.

The cause of this is the lack of diversity in ballet. From its beginnings in the French courts, through the Enlightenment, as well as through its spread to England, Russia, and finally, to America, ballet has conformed to many diverse cultures. With the world becoming more and more diverse, ballet must continue to evolve and embrace the diverse world that exists today.



Kirov Ballet Chopiniana

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Kirov Ballet performing "Chopiniana"

While ballet has a long way to go in addressing these issues, there are many dancers who are actively working to bring change and that are striving to make ballet relevant to a changing audience. 

One of these dancers is Misty Copeland. Misty became the third African American female soloist at the American Ballet Theater in 2007. She has spoken openly about racism in the industry of ballet.

Yuan Yuan Tan is a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. In the late 1990’s she became the first Chinese dancer to be promoted to that position.

Kayla Rowser is a dancer at the Nashville Ballet that is outspoken about the importance of diversity in the ballet world. She has worked extensively with Project Plie, which is a project aimed at increasing racial and ethnic representation in ballet.



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