Facts About Ballet

by Hallie Engel
Toe dancing in ballet began in the 17th century.

Toe dancing in ballet began in the 17th century.

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Enjoyed the world over, ballet has evolved over hundreds of years. Beginning as entertainment for Renaissance-era royalty, it has become a renowned art, transitioning from the stage to the big screen in movies such as "Black Swan." Ballet requires hard work and discipline, but the pay off takes the form of elegance, grace and the applause of audiences.

The Origins of Ballet

The precursors of ballet lie in Italy, where elaborate dances were performed to entertain guests at banquets and celebrations in royal courts. During the Renaissance, extravagant celebrations would feature performers who recited poetry, sang and danced for the amusement of guests. Dances, inspired by local folk dance, were performed between courses and often would match stylistically with the food. For instance, a piece based on the myth of Jason and the golden fleece would precede a serving of lamb.

World Records

There are various world records related to ballet, demonstrating the strength and poise required of dancers. On Aug. 2, 2010, 230 dancers gathered in New York's Central Park and stood en pointe, wearing special shoes with reinforced toes, for one minute and seven seconds, according to DNA Info. This feat beat a previous record by adding 10 dancers. The world's largest ballet class featured 989 students and took place in Cape Town, South Africa, on Aug. 24, 2008, in a shopping mall.

En Pointe Shoes

Paper, paste, leather and satin are the basic components of en pointe shoes, according to Tip Toe Dancewear, and the shoes are made from the inside out. The box of shoe, which is the hard base dancers balance upon when performing, is made of layers of paste and paper that are left to harden. The warmth of the wearer's foot helps mold the shoe to create a custom fit and underneath the center of the shoe is the shank, which is like a supportive spine.

Men and Ballet

During the early days of ballet in the 15th and 16th centuries, male ballet dancers were received as celebrities, earned huge salaries and were befriended by kings. However, male dancers also performed the roles of women in this era, according to the Australian Ballet. Slim young men, whose bodies most resembled those of women, were cast in female roles and wore masks to conceal their faces. The first professional women dancers did not appear on stage until 1681.

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