Whether you want to participate in ballet or just watch it, the ballet experience can excite and inspire you. Ballet is among the most beautiful forms of expression ever devised: an exquisite mix of sight and sound, stunning, aesthetics, and awesome technique.
Ballet For Dummies is for anyone who wants to enjoy all that the dance forms offers - as an onlooker who wants to get a leg up on the forms you're likely to see or as an exercise enthusiast who understands that the practice of ballet can help you gain:
* More strength
* Greater flexibility
* Better body alignment
* Confidence in movement
* Comfort through stress reduction
* Infinite grace - for life
From covering the basics of classical ballet to sharing safe and sensible ways to try your hand (and toes) at moving through the actual dance steps, this expert reference shows you how to:
* Build your appreciation for ballet from the ground up.
* Choose the best practice space and equipment.
* Warm up to your leap into the movements.
* Locate musical options for each exercise.
* Look for certain lifts in a stage performance.
* Tell a story with gestures.
* Picture a day in the life of a professional ballet dancer.
* Identify best-loved classic and contemporary ballets.
* Speak the language of ballet.
Today you can find a ballet company in almost every major city on earth. Many companies have their own ballet schools - some for training future professionals, and others for interested amateurs. As you fine-tune your classical ballet technique - or even if you just like to read about it - you'll become better equipped to fully appreciate the great choreography and many styles of the dance. Ballet For Dummies raises the curtain on a world of beauty, grace, poise, and possibility!
Ballet For Dummies (9781119643104) was previously published as Ballet For Dummies (9780764525681). While this version features a new Dummies cover and design, the content is the same as the prior release and should not be considered a new or updated product.
Curtain Up! Welcome to the Ballet
IN THIS CHAPTER
What you need to get started
Dancing like a pro - for fun and enjoyment
Welcome to world of ballet - a universe of beauty and grace, aerial pyrotechnics, heroes, villains, and a fairy or two. Where the sound of tapping toes melds with the luscious strains of a full orchestra. Where true love always triumphs, evil is destroyed, and everybody has great legs.
This is the world of ballet. And by the way - don't be put off by the fact that all the guys are wearing tights. It's art, man, art!
Ballet for Life
Whether you want to participate in ballet or just watch it, the ballet experience can excite and inspire you. Ballet is one of the most beautiful forms of expression ever devised: an exquisite mix of sight and sound, stunning aesthetics, and awesome technique.
Though the professional ballet world may or may not be for you, the practice of ballet certainly can be. Ballet can give you more strength and flexibility, better alignment, and infinite grace - for life. It can counteract the aging effects of gravity, reduce stress, and prevent injury. And until you've tried moving your body to some of the most beautiful music ever written, you've missed one of the greatest joys life has to offer.
Imagine waking up after 100 years of sleep, released from a curse, and finding your true love. You may feel inspired to attempt such superhuman feats as the one depicted in Figure 1-1 (after a good stretch, of course). In fact, you may even be exuberant enough to do it three times, like Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré in Sleeping Beauty. That's what we love most about ballet - above all, it can bring ecstasy into your life.
© Marty Sohl
FIGURE 1-1: The exuberance of ballet: Evelyn Cisneros and Anthony Randazzo in Sleeping Beauty.
In the Beginning .
The ballet moves in this book have a long tradition - longer than most things on earth. In ballet, an understanding of that tradition is extremely important. In this section, we acquaint you with the winding road that led to the beautiful art form you can experience today.
Just like music, dance has existed since prehistoric times. Rhythmic chanting - usually meant to appease the gods or to while away the time between woolly mammoth sightings - soon became accompanied by body movement. After all, what's more natural than swaying to the beat?
Some of the earliest organized dances took place in ancient Greek dramas, which sometimes incorporated a dancing chorus. Even then, it paid to know how to move your feet. The tradition made its way to Italy, where theatrical dancing became enhanced by manual gestures, or mime. (You can read more about mime in Chapter 16.) This tradition was kept alive for centuries by minstrels who sang, tumbled, juggled, and reveled their way through the Dark Ages.
Court dancing for fun and profit
It was during the High Renaissance in northern Italy that court ballroom dancing was born. (The words "ballet" and "ball" are both derived from the Italian word ballare, meaning "to dance".) Performed by the nobility, court dances became all the rage. They spread to France - where they reached their height at the court of King Louis XIV.
King Louis, the Sun King (or "Twinkle Toes," as he was almost certainly not known), was an accomplished dancer himself, as you can see in Figure 1-2. He established the first official school of ballet, known today as the Paris Opera Ballet. That's why, to this day, all ballet vocabulary is in French.
FIGURE 1-2: King Louis XIV, the Sun King, in a ballet pose of his time.
Whereas the first performers were kings, noblemen, and other slackers dancing for their own enjoyment, ballet eventually became much more structured and elaborate, demanding strong legs, great balance, and increasingly virtuosic technique. Professional ballet was born.
If you were to suddenly wake up at a dance performance in the year 1680, two things would strike you: The dancers, as they accidentally slammed into your suddenly materialized body, and the fact that everyone onstage was a guy. Ballet was for athletes; it was unbecoming (so people thought) for women to participate in such bold and daring moves.
The first women didn't appear professionally until 1681 - and when they did, they wore big hoop skirts, high heels, and wigs. Eventually, someone got the idea that a ballerina could be much more effective with her legs visible. So beginning in the early 1700s, women began dancing in shorter and shorter skirts, and without hoops, heels, or wigs.
The Paris Opera and pointe work
The more of their bodies they revealed, the more popular ballerinas became. But in order to truly win the favor of the audience, one more element was needed. Something so strange, so masochistic, that you would never believe it in a million years. We're talking, of course, of dancing on the tips of their toes - en pointe.
The thought behind this bizarre concept was this: If a woman could point her feet unnaturally down at a 90-degree angle and stand really high off the ground, balancing on the very tips of two or three toes, she would appear to be floating.
And that was a good thing - this was the Romantic era, and most ballets of the time involved spirits, fairies, and supernatural creatures, like women whose day job involved being dead. Floating above the surface of the stage just seemed the right thing to do.
This feat of the feet was possible with the help of special shoes, known today as pointe shoes. And the first ballerina who pulled if off was Marie Taglioni (see Figure 1-3) - daughter of a famous choreographer at the Paris Opera.
Dancing en pointe did the trick - thereafter, women not only became the equals of the men onstage, but actually dominated ballet for well over a century.
FIGURE 1-3: Marie Taglioni, the first ballerina to dance en pointe.
As time passed, pointe shoes became stronger and more supportive, allowing ballerinas to stay up longer and dance more complicated steps. Today pointe work is a substantial area of any ballerina's training; she must be able to balance on the points of her toes, strong and secure, for longer than it took you to read this sentence.
After all these years, the Paris Opera remains one of the best ballet companies in the world, boasting some phenomenal dancers. If you ever visit Paris, make sure to stop by the Opera Garnier - where the first pointe shoes of Marie Taglioni are still on display.
Russia and America
After 1850, the center of the ballet world shifted from Paris to St. Petersburg, Russia. There the master choreographer Marius Petipa, working with the music of the great composer Peter Tchaikovsky, was beginning to draw the attention of the world. Their creations, such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, remain immortal masterpieces of ballet.
Over time, the technical demands of Russian ballets continued to increase, and by the early 1900s, the Imperial Russian Ballet School was training the greatest dancers in the world. On a recent trip to Russia for the purposes of researching this book (at least that's what we told the IRS), we confirmed that it is still possible to see superb dancing in Russia.
But it wasn't long before some Russian dancers began to crave more artistic freedom, and a quiet exodus from Russia began. The so-called Ballets Russes, made up of some of Russia's greatest dancers, toured Europe and America in the early 1900s, reviving interest in classical ballet. The brilliant Russian ballerina named Anna Pavlova formed her own company and toured all over the world, bringing ballet to thousands who had never seen it before.
Several Russian dancers found a new home in America. One was George Balanchine, who established a major ballet school in the 1930s, which eventually supported the New York City Ballet. America's enthusiastic support of ballet continues to draw some of the best dancers and choreographers in the world.
Today you can find a ballet company, with magnificent dancers, in almost every major city on earth. Many companies have their own ballet schools - some for training future professionals, and others for interested amateurs.
After two hundred years of female domination, male dancers have regained ballet superstardom. Leading the movement were such geniuses as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov -?masters of clean lines, high jumps, and Olympian athleticism.
The technical demands on dancers still continue to increase. Dancers must excel in classical technique in order to master the old warhorses; yet they must also be ready to throw themselves - literally - into some of the newest choreography (see Figure 1-4). Ballet continues to be more and more diverse, fun to watch, and even more fun to do.
© Marty Sohl
FIGURE 1-4: Evelyn Cisneros and Anthony Randazzo in...