Newcomers to formal dance training are often told that classical ballet training will help them succeed as dancers. But this can sometimes generate confusion, leaving dancers questioning what is classical ballet training and why is it so important to dancers, especially if they don’t intend to become classical ballet dancers themselves.
In this blog post we’ll explain why classical ballet training is such an important part of training versatile and knowledgeable dancers across any discipline.
What is Classical Ballet and Why Should Dancers Study It?
Classical ballet as we know it today developed in the late 19th century in the Russian city of St. Petersburg during the last days of the Russian Empire and the Romantic period. It evolved from earlier forms of ballet that developed in France beginning in the 17th century, gaining popularity as it spread across the courts of Europe to Italy and Russia during the 18th and 19th century. The origins of classical ballet began as dances performed during operas as an amusement, gaining importance over time until eventually the ballet dances became an independent art form.
Because of these origins, the music and stories of the best known classical ballets overlap with many of the best known Romantic operas of the late 19th century. In addition, it explains why the language we associate with classical ballet is French: French rather than Russian was the language of the Russian court and was where ballet itself originated.
These factors in turn help to explain why classical ballet training is so critical for dancers who wish to succeed as professionals. Classical ballet’s French, Italian and Russian roots are the origin of much of the terminology used in the professional dance world. And reaction to its rules formed the basis for the contemporary and modern dance movements that followed. Understand classical ballet, and everything else in the dance world makes sense.
Elements of Classical Ballet Training
So what is classical ballet training? In a nutshell, it is training that educates dancers on the elements of classical ballet – from terminology, to movement and musicality, to production elements, repertory, costumes and more.
For some dancers, classical ballet training will lead them along the traditional path from beginner level 1’s basic positions in slippers through the advanced and pre-professional levels where they will dance en pointe and learn classical ballet repertory.
For other dancers, such as modern, musical theater or street dance artists, classical ballet training provides a background and common language that allows dancers from different “worlds” to understand one another. Here are some of the elements that classical ballet training can cover:
Music – Classical ballets typically are based around well-known pieces of music composed for ballet by classical composers such as Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Minkus. Many of the best known classical ballets are based on music and choreography created during the Romantic period of the late 19th century. Learning to tell stories through music and interpret characters through dance can help any dancer develop their musicality and expression.
Stories and Repertory – Classical ballet usually tells a story whereas a modern or contemporary ballet may not. Classical ballet stories often are based on stories of romance or well-known traditional fairytales. Within this story there is a problem or a conflict that the main characters must resolve. Learning how to tell these stories helps dancers develop their artistry.
Production – Classical ballet typically involves elaborate productions with highly detailed costumes and scenery changes, and typically require a large company of dancers to produce. Like old-school Hollywood movies with a “cast of thousands,” classical ballets involve multiple principals and a large corps de ballet. Contemporary or modern ballets might only require a few dancers by comparison. Learning how classical ballets are produced provides experience that develops a dancer’s versatility.
Pointe – The pointe shoes and tutus worn by female principal dancers are among the most notable visual elements of classical ballet. These are typically not worn by contemporary ballet or modern dancers. Pointe shoes were developed to make classical ballet dancers appear weightless, whereas contemporary and modern dance artists are striving for a more earthy, grounded appearance. Tutus, on the other hand, were developed to showcase the complex footwork of principal ballerinas. Even if a dancer never intends to dance en pointe, classical ballet training helps to develop strength and flexibility.
Character Dances – Also called “folk” dances, character dances are the stylized national dances such as the flamenco, tarantella or mazurka that are featured within the story of a classical ballet. For example, during the party scene of the Nutcrackers, the national dances of Ukraine, China, Arabia and Spain are featured during a “divertissement.” Learning character dances during classical ballet training develops an appreciation for different cultures and musical styles, adding to a dancer’s versatility.
Positions, Moves and Steps – Classical ballet is highly rigorous and rules-based, using the same terminology, positions, moves and steps the world over. Ballet terminology is typically in French, due to the fact that ballet was initially developed in France during the 17th century. Classical ballet training provides specific training on this language, so that dancers can work and perform anywhere and understand the directions they are given.
Classical Ballet Training with Joffrey Ballet School
Joffrey Ballet School’s world class classical ballet instructors come from around the world – Russia, Europe and elsewhere – and have trained with the world’s leading ballet schools. We provide classical ballet training both as part of our classical ballet program, and embedded within our other dance training programs. Whether you’re looking to expand your horizons as a dancer, or if you’re looking to become the next prima ballerina, contact Joffrey today to learn how our classical ballet training can help you accomplish your goals.