Across Australia and the world, children love learning to dance. Ballet has long been popular for its beauty, its grace and its poise, and when parents choose a dance style for their children ballet springs naturally to mind. But while most parents are aware of the many benefits ballet will bring to their little one, not everyone is familiar with the history of this classic art form.
Ballet began in Italy during the Renaissance, and the word ballet simply comes from the Italian ballare, meaning "to dance". Dances and balls of all kinds were a part of life for the lucky Italian elite of the time, and the masked balls so popular during the 1500's spread to France with the marriage of Italian Catherine de Medici to France's King Henry II.
The dance moves seen in these early European court balls bore little resemblance to the powerful, free and graceful movements seen on ballet stages around the world today. Dancers were inhibited by the masks, elaborate headdresses and many layered costumes they wore, and their movements were limited to small steps and gentle promenades. Even the shoes of these early dancers differed from the ballet slippers considered traditional today, and looked like formal, heeled dress shoes.
Despite these restrictions, dancing became incredibly popular in noble circles, and the first professional dancers were hired to perform at these events. As time passed, ballet performances became more elaborate and spectacular, stages were built to showcase the talents of dancers, and large audiences flocked to enjoy their shows.
By the mid 19th century Russia had developed its own powerful form of ballet - a tradition that is still strongly respected today. The ballet world soon hinged around Russian dance, and Russian dancers were seen touring throughout Europe.
Ballet has come a long way since the early days of its evolution, and the styles and movements once seen in Italian, French and Russian society have expanded to encompass a far greater range of movement and a broader diversity of both costuming and story lines. There have been significant shifts in gender norms as well, and the focus on romantic heroines of pure and magical goodness has been replaced by a range of powerful female characters who display strength and integrity, passion and intelligence.
When you support your child to learn the ballet, you not only give them the gift of grace and beauty, you make them part of this rich and fascinating history as well.