BALLET: A classical dance form characterized by grace and precision of movement and by elaborate formal gestures, steps, and poses.

Ballet is one of the earliest forms of dance that is still performed today. Many of the positions and movements in ballet have become the basis for other dance forms.

The earliest forms of ballet were performed in the courts of Renaissance Italy around the 1400s. The extravagant performances took places in banquet or ballroom halls and used painting, poetry, music and dance. France further developed these ballets. Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (The Queen’s Ballet Comedy) was performed in 1581 and was the first ballet in which the score survived.

Most of the French ballets were dance scenes with a small plot. Many times, they were viewed from above so they had many floor patterns. They were designed mostly for entertainment with elaborate costumes, scenery and effects. The peak of ballets performed in the court was 1643-1715, the reign of Louis XIV.

In 1661, Louis XIV started a professional dance organization. Acad,mie Royale Danse consisted of male dancers until 1681. Le Triomphe de l’Amour (The Triumph of Love) had the first professional female dancers.

As time progressed, the 18th century dancers wore masks, wigs or large headdresses, heeled shoes and hoopskirts. The women wore panniers with their hoopskirts and the men wore a knee-length version of it. Marie Camargo, a French dancer, shortened her skirts and used heelless slippers. A rival to Marie was Marie Sall, who took another approach to costumes. She wore a Greek robe, instead of a corset for her ballet. Men dominated the second half of the 18th century.

Outside of France, others were changing ballet to be more dramatic. In London, John Weaver, a choreographer, took away words and used dance and pantomime instead. Italy worked with dramatic themes and gestures.

During the 18th century, Jean Georges Noverre, a Frenchman, had a big influence on ballet. He used movement that was more natural and easily understood and emphasized that ballet should work in harmony. The beginning of pointe, dancing on toes, also began.

The romantic ballet emerged in the 1800s. It used the subject of otherworldly beings and happenings. Women dominated the romantic ballet. Although romantic ballets were performed in new areas, such as the United States, it was slowly dying in France. Denmark and Russia picked up the form and Russia is where famous ballets, such as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake were born.

Into the 20th century, a French Choreographer for the Imperial Russian Ballet, Marius Petipa, had his form of ballet turn into a formula, Fokine. Fokine had a greater expressiveness and more authentic choreography, scenery and costume. Ballet Russes were also introduced and were known for novelty and entertainment and revitalized ballet all over the world.

In the 1920s, modern dance began in the United States. Dancers broke away from traditional movements and created their own forms. Most of the forms represented human life. In 1930, symphonic ballet was introduced. It used the musical content of symphonies. The American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet were born in 1940.

Although the classic forms of ballet are still performed, ballet has evolved. Rock and roll music and athleticism have been used in ballet. Choreographers use their own styles and ideas, but still keep the basics of ballet in mind.