Dating all the way back to the 17th Century, ballet remains as the foundation of most dance forms today. Ballet lengthens and strengthens the body, also adding significantly to a dancer’s flexibility. Such conditioning and training makes it easier to perform other genres of dance.
Ballet is comprised of a series of structured steps, foot positions, and arm placements, which require discipline and practice to master. Technique training is often accompanied by soft, instrumental music – usually a piano - which helps the dancer to remain relaxed, rather than tensing the muscles.
There are various forms of ballet, including French, Russian, American, and Contemporary. Each has its own flare, but the basics remain virtually the same.
A ballet will tell a story through graceful body movement. It is characterized by dancing on the toes to lengthen the body, pointing the feet for complete and elongated lines, and elegant turns and leaps. The dancer remains lifted and upright to make the body lighter, giving the appearance of gliding on stage or floating through the air.
Depending on the level, most ballet classes will begin at the ballet barre for warm up, then transition to center floor. In some beginners’ classes, students remain at the barre from start to finish. The ballet barre is used to train the dancer for center floor combinations. Dancers use the barre to assist with balancing on their toes, to support the body, and for help to spot when turning. Once a movement is mastered at the barre, dancers can make use of that movement during center floor work and while performing on stage.
Stretching is also an essential component of ballet. Stretching adds flexibility, which not only allows the dancer to perform impressive leg extensions, but also results in faster turns and fancier footwork.
Beginning ballet as an adult may seem intimidating. But ballet can be enjoyed at any age. In order to dance with a professional company, most dancers will need to begin early.
Still, anyone can learn the basics of ballet. Those who start in their later years may not get their leg quite as high or be able to do a perfect split, but they can obtain a toned and lean body as well as a great deal of core strength and flexibility. Most importantly, they can have a great time doing it!