8 Fun Ballet Facts and Trivia Information
Ballet is admittedly quite the art form, having been practiced for centuries across predominantly European cultures. Although it is believed from ballet originated from the Italian Renaissance in the 1400s, there’s also a strong history of it in Russian and French cultures as well as several others. Here are a few of the more interesting ballet facts:
Ballet Fact #1: Its Origins May Not Be What You Think
Ask anyone on the street what country they think ballet first came from and chances are they’ll reply “Russia”. While the significance of Russia’s contributions to the art can’t be overstated, ballet’s origins lie in France and Italy. It first came about during the Renaissance, when social dances were a common occurrence.
Eventually, the dance component of opera started to branch out on their own which is what led to the advent of ballet. The first was “Ballet de Nymphes”, produced by Italian composer Baldassarino Belgiojoso. He continued to refine his craft, his later work being much like today’s.
Ballet Fact #2: Ballet Was Originally an All-Male Affair
The tutu and the pointed shoe are probably the most iconic imagery associated with ballet. Both of these items are worn by the female dancer and the term ballerina again refers to a woman. Despite this, the idea of ballet being primarily a female art form wasn’t present at its inception. In fact, the first ballets were performed exclusively by men.
An interesting fact is that the first female dancers didn’t start to appear until the late 1600s, two centuries after the first ballet. It took even longer before they started to take a prominent role. Even today, the majority of choreographers in ballet are men.
Ballet Fact #3: Ballet Dancers are Among the Best Trained Athletes in the World
While it might not seem so at first glance, anyone watching ballet quickly comes to realize the sheer athleticism of the dancers. Years upon years of training are required to become a dancer, with many undergoing over twenty hours of barre training every week. There is also significantly more to ballet than just learning the moves.
A number of other dance styles must be learned, and different aspects of performance have to be understood and developed. Some NFL players have been known to take up ballet in order to intensify their training regimens with full-body workout.
Ballet Fact #4: Dancers Go Through a Lot of Shoes
One might imagine that the iconic pointed shoes of ballet might be something that the dancers’ treasure, finding the perfect pair and sticking with them for years. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, the shoes are worn down by ballet’s intense dancing extremely quickly. A ballet season lasts only several months, but during this time a dancer can go through over 100 pairs of shoes.
Also, the shoes can be quite expensive, priced between $50 and $100. It is the shoes which are one of the largest expenses for any ballet company. Some dancers can even go through several pairs a night.
Ballet Fact #5: Accompaniment is Taken Very Seriously
Ballets were traditionally accompanied by violins and other string instruments. In the late 1800s, these were replaced by the piano, which accompanies modern ballets. The pianist is a very important part of any ballet and is expected to show the same dedication as the dancers. The accompanist plays during the daily training.
Recorded music is never used at any point. Accompaniment needs to know the entire ballet inside and out, so they can know what to play and when during the intense training sessions. The sessions start and stop constantly, a difficulty for the pianist.
Ballet Fact #6: Tutu Production
The tutu, the classic puffy ballet dress, is an integral part of any ballet. These garments are all handmade and of constantly high quality. It’s not uncommon for these well-made tutus to last up to 30 years, with many being passed on to younger ballerinas as the owner retires. They are composed of many layers, sometimes over 10. The layers are made of tulle and supported by a wire hoop.
The top layer of the tutu extends over a foot from the hip of the dancer. A lot of labour goes into sewing all these layers and the cost of quality tutus can be in the thousands.
Ballet Fact #7: The Elaborate Garments Can’t Be Washed
The intricate design of tutus raises a certain problem in their maintenance. Machine washing is absolutely out of the question. Even hand-washing with water would be too rough on the delicate construction of the garments. So therefore, tutus can never be washed.
In order to prevent any odor issues the costumes are aired out between performances, sometimes sprayed with a light freshener. Thankfully, this doesn’t cause as much trouble as one might think. The costumes are only worn during performances. Aside from sweat, it’s extremely unlikely anything would be getting them dirty.
Ballet Fact #8: Ballet Costumes Used to Be Very Different
When ballets first started to become popular, the costumes weren’t anything like what we see today. For one thing, the ballet was originally a masked performance. Influenced by masquerades of the day, the performers would wear elaborate eye masks as part of their costumes. The masks were commonly used to indicate the archetype being portrayed by the dancer.
The costumes themselves were also much more elaborate and diverse than what is seen today. These bulky, lavish costumes used at that time resulted in the ballet being a much slower and more reserved affair than it is today.