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History of Ballet

Ballet is one of the most celebrated and recognisable dancing styles in the world.

The history and development of ballet is something that has evolved over time and continues to develop to this day.

To celebrate World Ballet Day here's our History of ballet infographic.

History of Dance

The History of Ballet

Ballet is one of the most celebrated and recognisable dancing styles in the world. The history and development of ballet is something that has evolved over time and continues to develop to this day.

Ballet isn’t the only dance style that’s recognised across the globe. In fact, International Dance Day celebrates lots of different dance styles around the world.

Ballet dance history is a popular subject amongst both beginners and experienced ballerinas. But what are the ballet history facts? Read on to discover how ballet began and evolved into the dancing style we all know and love today.  

Ballet in Renaissance France & Italy

Ballet first started in 14th century France and Italy. The dance would typically take place in beautiful royal palaces as a celebration of the birth or marriage of powerful people, like princes or princesses.

The technique of ballet dancing was different during this time. The dance moves were performed using a flat foot, and the dance itself was performed in lines on the ballroom floor.

By the 1400s, ballet had become a social event. Many influential people tried to learn the dance moves to remind others of their social status, and the elegance of ballet dancing was celebrated throughout Europe.

By now, the dances that took place in the courts had an air of mystery to them, and performers usually wore masks, costumes and accessories. Women wore huge wigs and tight corsets to heighten their femininity, while male ballet dancers donned tights and lighter clothing to give them more freedom of movement.

Baroque Period Ballet Dance

King Louis XIV of France famously loved to perform ballet, and in 1661 he opened the first ballet school, the Academie Royale de Danse.

Around this time, ballet was becoming more of a performance than a pastime, and was moving from ballrooms to stages.

By the 1700s, ballet was becoming a more female orientated dance with the disapproval of women performers becoming less of an issue.


Ballet dancing itself became more impressive during this period, with hops, jumps and airborne twists increasing in popularity. Famous ballet dancers like Marie Salle even let her hair down and wore lighter clothing, sparking a feminist revolution within the dancing community.

In 1789 the monarchy was overthrown during the French Revolution, and many royal institutions, including the Royal Academy of Dance, were closed down. However, ballet lived on in the hearts and souls of the dancers, and became more underground. In 1929 the academy reformed as the Paris Opera Ballet.

Ballet Dance in the Romantic Period

By the nineteenth century, female performers were now shocking audiences by wearing dance skirts cut to just above the ankle. Technical ballet ability was improving, so ballet performances were now becoming longer and the dancers became softer and more fluid and graceful in their movements.

In 1832, Marie Taglioni performed La Sylphide en pointe, and is widely recognised to be the first dancer to perform ballet this way. However, many believe that female performers have been dancing en pointe prior to this. By the late 1860s, women and their beautiful en pointe style had begun to steal the limelight away from male dancers.

Find out more on the history of ballet en pointe in our blog.

In 1892 The Nutcracker was first performed. This was followed by Swan Lake in 1895.

In 1926, the Royal Ballet opened in England, and in 1937 the American Ballet Theatre opened in New York City.

In 1959, Spandex was invented. This proved to be a turning point in ballet costumes, and many ballerinas started to wear Lycra Spandex costumes to allowed them more freedom of movement than ever before.


But what about modern day ballet? Click here to find out all about ballet uniform dancewear