You are on page 1of 10

A Beginner’s Guide to Ballet

Where To Begin
It really is this simple. As simple as it was for you to pick up this booklet, it is just as easy to enjoy ballet and other interesting dance forms. There are no special methods or tricks that you need to be taught. There is no in-depth research to be done. The big secret that dance-lovers are in on, is that there’s no secret at all. The journey is all yours. You just have to be willing to take the ride. Dance is the human body moving. In one form or another, dance has been a part of our history since the world began. Primitive societies used dance to celebrate the planting and harvesting of their crops. Kings and Queens of the 16th century celebrated royal weddings with great entertainments that included wonderful displays of dance. The 19th century brought people to the theatre to watch dance as a way to escape their harsh realities for a few hours. Today a variety of media and technology utilize the pleasing aesthetics of moving bodies. Music videos, commercials and video games continue to keep dance a part of our everyday lives. So why then are we still apprehensive about going to dance performances? Artists of the Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty The biggest stumbling block to the public enjoyment of dance is the fact that people feel that they don’t understand what is going on. In Paris, 1913, crowds rioted in the streets after the premiere of Vaslav Nijinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring. This reaction demonstrates the anger and frustration the audience felt because they did not understand the dance set before them. Sadly this confusion still exists today. To avoid frustration and embarrassment many people close themselves off to dance completely. They, therefore, miss out on the way dance can be pleasurable, provoke thought, enhance creativity and overall enrich their lives. You may have heard comments like “I don’t understand it” or “It just doesn’t mean anything to me”. To the uninitiated, dance is all the same. But now, at the beginning of a new century, the range of styles, philosophies and techniques is so varied. Canada’s vibrant dance scene offers a wide variety of viewing options. If you don’t like one choreographer’s or a particular company’s work, chances are there is another work that you will enjoy.

enjoy it Questions to ask yourself Let your imagination soar. First try looking at moving bodies you are familiar with. The combination of movement. set design. the movement and the dancers the colours. Regardless of whether or not a dance performance meets your particular tastes you are going to get something out of it. curious or amazed. There is no right or wrong interpretation. distressed. anxious. relaxed. It’s your experience. shapes and dynamics on the stage the relationship between the music. What you see on stage can be just as accessible as watching a sporting event. you may feel excited. With each movement your imagination is able to soar to new and potentially unknown places without fear or trepidation because you are open to the experience. music and lighting all work together to take you on the journey. and because there are no rules in dance. and the interpretation of it is all yours. As the performance surrounds you. You can safely examine the way a baseball pitcher throws a curve ball or the way a hockey goalie makes a save. Why not set your mind in motion alongside of the movement? To simplify things further try to keep in mind the following items when watching dance: Things to look at > > > > > > > the movement and emotions expressed by the dancer(s) the combination of patterns. textures and elements used to enhance the movement How does dance make me feel? Do I recognize any of the gestures or symbols used by the choreographer? Does the dance remind me of other moments or events in my life? What can I take away from this experience? Things to remember > > > > Expose yourself to dance in a variety of settings There are no right or wrong interpretations of what you see You will get something from it Do not pressure yourself . The adventure begins the moment you sit in the theatre and the lights begin to dim. gesture. Dancers are also athletes who through hard work and discipline move their bodies in an organized or choreographed way. The movements of many athletes follow organized pathways that elicit emotional responses from their spectators. Guillaume Côté in Cinderella page 2 of 10 .The key is not to pressure yourself. there are countless possibilities for response. If you are still not convinced that you can enjoy dance then some practice may be in order.

This young company featured Principal Dancers Celia Franca. television appearances and extensive touring gave the company international recognition. the company also embraces contemporary works and encourages the creation of new ballets and the development of Canadian choreographers. She subsequently embarked on an extraordinary international career that saw her dance many of ballet’s greatest roles with some of the foremost dance companies in the world and work with some of contemporary ballet’s most important choreographers. Italy and Mexico. to come to Toronto to establish a ballet company for Canada. with the National Ballet. Upon her retirement from the stage in 1997. Artistic Director An international dance artist of the first rank. Karen Kain has. In its 55-year history Canada’s premier company has performed for over 10 million people. 1951. Within the year Miss Franca had founded The National Ballet of Canada and the company presented its first performance at Eaton Auditorium in Toronto on November 12. an ambassador for her art form and her country’s cultural presence. Israel. It was established as a classical company and is still the only Canadian company to present a full range of traditional fulllength classics. the United States and throughout the world including performances in Germany. Celia Franca With its first rehearsal studios in historic St. by a group of determined volunteers. Karen Kain page 3 of 10 . Born in Hamilton. Ontario.Brief History Of The National Ballet Of Canada With more than 60 dancers and its own orchestra. Karen Kain.. Lawrence Hall the company continued to grow and flourish under Miss Franca’s direction. New repertoire. C. The company has toured extensively across Canada. The premiere performance by the National Ballet included Les Sylphides and the Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor. for over three decades. In 2006 the company began a new era in the magnificent Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Hong Kong. The National Ballet was created in 1951 when English dancer Celia Franca was asked. The Netherlands. Japan. In 1964 the National Ballet moved to the newly opened O’Keefe Centre (now the Hummingbird Centre). David Adams and Jury Gotshalks in its early repertoire with George Crum as their Music Director.C. Irene Apiné. Kain joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1969 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1971 following her debut as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Ms. guest artists. The National Ballet of Canada ranks as one of the world’s top international dance companies. She was named the company’s Artistic Director in 2005. and then Artistic Associate. In addition to its classical repertoire. personified and distilled the essence of classical ballet for audiences in Canada and abroad. she assumed the role of Artist in Residence. Lois Smith.

The heel of one foot touches the other ankle. page 4 of 10 Artists of the Ballet in Ballet Class . These are essentially knee bends that warm up the legs and ankles and improve elasticity. the names of the steps are given to students in their original French. They assist the dancer in turns. Tendu Tendus are leg and foot stretches that help elongate and strengthen the muscles of the legs and torso. the leg is thrown strongly out to the side. They are executed to the front. They allow for greater flexibility. They practice these exercises every day in order to keep their bodies limber and in top performing shape. While executing numerous variations of tendu exercises. pointe work and landing jumps. Petit battement This exercise prepares the legs for more complicated and intricate steps. The terminology was originally developed in the court of Louis XIV during the 17th century. The toe traces a semi-circle on the floor around the body. Dégagé Dégagés are the same brushing movement as tendus. This is made more difficult when the dancer rises on the supporting leg. the dancer is continually working on the proper turn-out of the legs and feet. dancers have to learn the basic exercises and positions of ballet in order to perform choreography on the stage. The barre – a horizontal rail fixed to the wall of a dance studio or freestanding on two parallel bars – is used as a balance-check. They start with approximately thirty minutes of barre exercises. Plié Pliés at the barre are the introductory exercises of any ballet class. Today. The lower part of the leg moves out and in very quickly. side to back and then past the stationary heel. All ballet exercises begin and end with one of the five basic positions of the feet. range of movement and also for a beautiful and long line of the body. Frappé Frappés prepare the legs for jumping. The language of ballet is French. The raised foot touches the other ankle and from the knee down. wherever in the world a ballet class is given. side and back with the foot brushing along the floor through half-pointe to a full extension. There are also complementary arm positions. Barre exercises All dancers begin their day with class where they warm up and perfect technical exercises. The positions are executed with the legs and feet turned out from the hip socket.Some Of The Things You May See In A Ballet Class Or Performance Just as you have to learn your ABC’s in order to read and write. but in dégagés the working leg leaves the floor slightly when extended. Rond de jambe This exercise increases the turn-out of the legs. The working leg moves steadily with the toe on the ground from the front to side.

Arabesque At the end of the barre exercises. These exercises include pliés. Stretching Dancers must be extremely flexible to execute many of the difficult movements without hurting themselves. Adage exercises Adage means slow. To increase and maintain their flexibility. During this series of turns. most importantly. Artists of the Ballet in Ballet Class legs are fully stretched and the feet are pointed. tendus and fondus. allegro in ballet involves brisk and lively movements. Allegro As in music. Grand pirouette Grand pirouettes are very complicated turns. dancers stretch their muscles every day. To execute proper turns. Male dancers perform an equally challenging turn called a pirouette à la second. In all jumps the page 5 of 10 . The plié serves many purposes. During the turn.Grand battement Free. In many ballets. high kicks of the leg are called grand battements. lyrical and sustained movements. The arabesque shows off the body at its longest and most extended line from the fingers to the toes. This spotting technique prevents dizziness. rising on pointe at each revolution. soft. dancers test their balance by letting go of the barre and rising on their toes. The arms are positioned in front of the body at waist level to keep the body balanced and assist with the turn. one leg is stretched behind the body. a plié and a pulled-up body. One of the most common positions for dancers to test their balance is the arabesque. Adage creates the illusion that the positions flow into one another. The leg is thrown in the air and then brought down to a tendu position with great control and with as little movement as possible in the upper body. the dancer performs a grand pirouette called a fouetté. creating a sharpness and length. it prevents injury and allows for height in the jump. Jumps begin and end with a plié. Centre work The barre exercises are always followed by centre work. during class and between rehearsals. Many exercises at the barre are performed during centre work without the support of the barre. The dancer starts the pirouette and extends his leg directly to the side of his body and maintains his momentum by rising at each or every other revolution. Pirouette Pirouette is the name given to the many kinds of turning steps in ballet. In an arabesque. a dancer must begin with a strong preparation. the dancer’s head must quickly snap to the front so they can focus on one spot at all times. usually jumping steps and sequences. adage exercises and allegro exercises. The weight of the body is on the supporting leg. The leg can be on the ground or in the air at a 90-degree angle or higher. the working leg whips out to the side and then into the knee as the dancer turns on the supporting leg. These exercises loosen the hip joints and keep the legs flexible. A series of steps are combined in adage exercises to develop these special qualities in the dancer’s body. New exercises are also introduced including pirouettes. Dancers often perform 32 fouettés in succession.

Behind The Scenes Before a ballet is ready to be performed on stage hundreds of hours of work take place behind the scenes. Ballet dancers are an elite group of athletes. All of the sets. It is also at the dress rehearsal that they have their final opportunity to try on their costumes. place or atmosphere. from the drawings made by the set designer. Often the same person who designs the set of a production designs the costumes. to bring the setting to the stage. For every minute of dancing you see on the stage. Everyone’s hard work is rewarded the moment the curtain rises and the ballet begins. Sets being refurbished for The Sleeping Beauty What Lies Beneath? In daily ballet class. carpenters and electricians work together. there has been one hour of rehearsal. As a remedy. Scenic artists. The designer creates a drawing of the costume and then the National Ballet’s wardrobe department makes a pattern. scenery and props used by the National Ballet are made at the company’s production workshop. Members of The National Ballet Orchestra page 6 of 10 . The setting of the stage helps to evoke the time. Dancers’ bodies need to be extremely strong and flexible to execute the demanding technique of ballet so they must practice and rehearse every day to keep their bodies in top physical condition. and practice the steps on the stage. a large building the size of an airplane hanger. decorates the costume and finally fits it on the dancers. Ballet costumes have to be carefully reinforced so the dancers can move easily and not worry about them coming apart while they are dancing. rehearsals and performances. most dancers dance on specially constructed dance floors to absorb the impact of jumping. It is usually at the dress rehearsal that the dancers hear the orchestra for the first time. When executing grand leaps and jumps. work with the props and scenery. their feet. a dancer’s body is pulled and stretched in many different directions. They train for many years before becoming professional dancers and once they join a company their training does not end. This floor is called a “sprung floor”. When dancers rehearse in the studio a pianist plays the music for them. Lighting design is added to enhance the production. chooses material. sews it together. knees and backs are subject to further abuse by landing on very hard concrete floors.

a Classical tutu or no tutu at all. pointe shoes are made of hard leather to help support the foot and the outside of the shoe is covered with pink satin that is sometimes dyed to match the dancer’s costume. with the development of the pointe shoe and the many stories about fairies and nymphs. This means that depending on the ballet. Greta Hodgkinson in Swan Lake page 7 of 10 . In the early 1800s. the Romantic tutu became popular. False noses. male and female.Pointe Shoes Developed in the early 19th century. dancers can go through one pair of pointe shoes each performance. cheeks. you may see a Romantic tutu. Choreographers and costume designers in the 21st century now choose costumes which best suit the purpose of their ballet. dancers sew satin ribbons to the sides and tie them securely around their ankles. eyelashes and moustaches can all be used to enhance the effect. As ballet technique developed becoming more and more complicated. What Is A Tutu? Avinoam Silverman in The Nutcracker A tutu is a special kind of skirt worn by dancers in many ballets. the audience would probably see a blur instead of your face because the strong lights would wash out all your facial features. Male dancers typically do not wear pointe shoes. and gave them a dreamy. pointe shoes are worn by female dancers to enable them to dance on the tips of their toes. It was much easier to dance in and the audience could see the positions of the legs and the dazzling footwork. Typically. When the first ballets were performed in the 15th and 16th centuries. Very complicated makeup can take up to 2 hours to apply. Sometimes stage makeup is exaggerated so that the dancer will look like a specific character or creature for a particular production. while allowing them to move more freely. sweat and body heat soften the shoe quickly and it can no longer hold the dancer’s foot. They wear ballet slippers or special ballet boots that are flexible enough for them to move in. These cumbersome outfits greatly restricted their movements. This bell shaped tutu is known as a Classical tutu. A Pointe Shoe Makeup For The Stage If you stood onstage without any makeup on your face. ethereal look. When dancing. This skirt came below the dancers’ knees. To keep the shoe on tightly. female dancers performed in the courts of royalty wearing floor length gowns with heavy decorations. wear makeup when they are onstage. the tutu was shortened to a length above the knee. To highlight and accentuate their eyes. Though they look just like a slipper. all dancers. noses and other features.

then bring them down quickly so that the hands. The dancers must tell the audience the story (if there is a story) using only their body movements and gestures. with the hands gesturing a warm welcome Dance Circle the hands around each other above the head Die Bring arms up to the side of the head. Baby Make a cradle with arms and rock them to and fro Stop Hold up hand. which they execute to the accompaniment of music.A Guide To Mime In a ballet performance there are typically no words spoken from the stage. fists clenched. palm out Sad Let fingers trace tears as they fall down the face Come Arms are stretched out and the palms are facing up. Often mime is used to relay specific elements of the story. Here is a sample of some of the mime gestures you may see on a ballet stage. are crossed in front of the body page 8 of 10 .

palms to face I Love You page 9 of 10 . with arms raised.Beg Mercy Hold arms out. as if praying Marry Point to wedding-ring finger with index finger of right hand Thank You Make a deep bow. palms together.

ballet.ca Photographers: Cylla von Tiedemann. If you need more information please visit our website or contact: Education and Community Outreach THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA The Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada 470 Queens Quay West Toronto.ca national.ballet.Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden in Swan Lake Do You Need More Information? We hope that this guide has answered many of your questions about ballet. Christopher Wahl and Bruce Zinger page 10 of 10 . ON M5V 3K4 416 345 9686 x 359 svanderlinde@national.