“The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and that has the traditional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs”- Charles Baudelaire.
The Evolution of Ballet
In the late 15th Century, ballet emerged in the Renaissance Court Culture of Italy as a dance interpretation of fencing, and was expanded upon in the French Court in the 17th Century. The original elaborate performances took place in large halls which were also used for royal banquets and balls. They united poetry, painting, dancing and music. In 1489, one dance actually took part in the middle of a banquet, and it was themed on the menu- basing their performances on the social dances of the time.
How Ballet Spread and Morphed
The development of ballet is largely due to the French Court, hence why ballet is in mostly french. In 1581, Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (The Queen’s Ballet Comedy) was performed in Paris. In fact, it was the very first ballet in which a complete score survived. It was a feat performed by aristocratic amateurs being watched by the royal family and galleries of spectators. With that kind of audience, you can imagine the emphasis on rich costumes, scenery and stage effects. During the 17th century, at the time of Louis XIV, was when court ballet became phenomenal. Even the king himself danced in a ballet (that’s why people started calling him the ‘Sun King’). Louis XIV retired in 1670, mainly because of excessive weight gain. By then professional ballet had already began. At the beginning, all the dancers were men. In fact, women roles were danced by men in masks. The first professional female dancers to perform did it in a theatre production in a ballet called Le Triomphe de l’Amour (The Triumph of Love) in 1681.
The 18th century saw ballet dancing spread through Denmark, Italy, and Russia. The dancers spread the choreographic and stylistic innovations which had flourished under the czars back to their place of origin. The main purpose was to display classical technique to the fullest— Pointe work, the high extensions, precision of movement and the turn-out (the outward rotation of the legs from the hip). It was then that it began evolving into a concert dance form, away from the traditional formalized type of performative dance.
Changes in Dress Code and Styles
Ballet has come a long way. In the beginning the dancers had long heavy dresses that hung down to the floor. Marie-Anne Cupis De Camargo shocked many in the 1700s when she shortened her dress to allow people to marvel at her footwork. This gave way to the popularity of the length of the skirts being reduced from the long and fluffy ‘Romantic Tutus’ to the ‘Classic Tutu’ skirt. Marie Taglioni made dancing on Pointe popular in the 1830s when she danced in the La Sylphide, which had been created for her by Filipo Taglioni, her father. In the 1840s, Marius Petipa went to Russia and produced over 60 ballets. Those are just examples of how the dance spread.
Broader concert ballet dancing continued into the 20th century. Take neoclassical ballet for example. It was developed by American choreographer George Balanchine. Ballet grew into a highly technical form of dance with its own different styles and vocabulary. Americans combined Pointe with acrobatics and stunts, and “toe dancing” came to be. That’s the time when ‘toe-tapping’ also became popular. (It’s what people today call Tap dancing)
The Growth of Ballet Briefly Explained in 3 Stages
The history 101 on the evolution of ballet can be simplified into 3 distinct stages. Each of them still taught in dance studio’s today:
1. Classical Ballet
This one is the most formal, and strictly adheres to the traditional ballet technique. The styles vary depending to the pace of origin- there’s the Russian Method, the Danish Method, the Italian Method, the Balanchine Method or New York City Ballet Method. There are even the Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School methods that were created in England. However, they don’t use the original Pointe shoes- those were ballet slippers that had been darned at the tip. It uses the common hard box, enables the dancer stand better on her toes, and achieves a better effect of appearing weightless.
2. Neoclassical ballet
This one uses the traditional ballet vocabulary, but is more flexible. Dancers can perform more technical feats, higher extensions and even reach more extreme feats and faster tempos. It doesn’t have the heavy theatrical setting and detailed narrative of the original ballet court dances. Non-traditional costumes like tunica and leotards are also used instead of the tutus.
3. Contemporary ballet
It’s a hybrid of classical ballet and modern dance. The technique and Pointe work come from classic ballet, but many of the concepts such as floor work and the turn-in of legs comes from 20th century innovations. Today it’s taught in dance studios and there are numerous explicitly contemporary ballet companies and choreographers.
How did Jazz dance come to be? Let’s go back to the early 1900s. Different cultures had different dance traditions. In Africa, their traditional dances majored on rhythms and torso movement, while the European style of dance focused on musicality, and folk/social dances. The two styles blended together, and then Jazz dance was created. Though the term “jazz” was first applied during World War I. Alongside the sounds of jazz music in New Orleans, Jazz Dance developed in the early 1900’s. By the 1930’s jazz dance became more of a theatre-based performance from of dance, requiring trained dancers.
One has to appreciate what the different cultures brought to the mix. In Africa, it was all about the rhythms. Each tribe had its own sets of dances. And many rhythms could be done simultaneously. The arms could be swaying to one rhythm, and the body to another. The dances could be done solo or in groups, such as during ceremonies. They gradually became competitive for entertainment. The European tradition is lauded for the Vaudeville (the variety show). It was basically a tradition of traveling performers who moved from town to town with their dances, songs, and skits. That’s how big names started to thrive, and different dances started to blend. For example, the show dancers Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire blended the flowing ballet movements with jazz’s more abrupt and rhythmic movements. Such events were where people like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson became famous as tap dancers. Ballet technique became a crucial component of every jazz dancer’s training. Soon, jazz dance became associated with tap dance, musical theater, big Broadway productions and dance studios all over the world.
No one can really point out when the term “tap dancing” was first used. But we all know what it is- a step dance that is tapped out audibly by means of shoes with hard soles and metal plates. It can also be soft shoe or with heels. There are different versions, such as the rhythm tap and Broadway tap.
Tap dancing goes way back to the 1800s. Its roots are in the Irish dancing, English Lancashire Clog dancing, and Juba Dance.During the time of slaver, it was known that slaves would use their feet and rhythms to communicate. It began as a subtle way to pass codes. Combined with the Irish and English clog dancing, and the “Buck and Wing” dance, African Americans could communicate over long distances using drum beats. So they restricted drum use. Metallic soles were added to the shoes in 1882. This helped to add sound to his rhythms. That gradually developed into the modern day Tap dance we know. It became big hit during the minstrel shows and later on in the Vaudeville events. Most of the original acts were performed by duets. (The law had forbidden blacks from doing solo performances).
Different dances spruced up- there was the “Shout” or Ring-Shout for camps, the Cakewalk for couple or group dances, and even the Shim Sham or Shim-Sham Shimmy done by the vaudeville performers. Today, there are numerous tap dance steps- from the shuffle, shuffle ball change, double shuffle, leap shuffle and the hop shuffle, flap to the flap ball change, running flaps and the flap heel. The list of tap steps is long. Even the tap shoes have changed from the traditional wood soles to tap shoes with leather soles and metal taps.
The different themes, story lines and chorus works developed into the musical theater that we know and love today. You can learn any or all at a dance studio. Jazz, tap, and musical theater dancing are tied to everyday songs, music and rhythms.
Where Hip-Hop Dance Came From
Rap, singing and jazz dance are what led to the creation of hip-hop. Hip-hop started out with styles like breaking, locking, and popping and has metamorphosed and spread mainly due to the popular dance crews. The dance industry created a commercial version of hip hop. This studio hip-hop, sometimes called “new style”, is that kind of hip-hop dance that you see in rap, R&B, and pop music videos and concerts. Hip-hop is mainly set apart due to its “freestyle” (improvisational) nature. There are even dance competitions, what are commonly referred to as “battles”.
Contemporary Dance is an extremely wide range of dance styles, including ballet and modern. It entails numerous styles, traditions and techniques, and its continuously developing. It started out as dance styles in the 19th century for those who argued that could not be the only dance form. They wanted more expressive and free style movement. As the early modern dance developed, new practitioners and new theories emerged. These were the likes of Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey and then later Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer. Those were the early pioneers of the modern dance.
Since then, with all the experimentation, it has developed numerous branches. And it’s not just the dance that’s changing- there’s even a shift from the traditional setting of theaters. Contemporary dance today is done literally anywhere- as long as there’s space and you won’t get into trouble with the law. It’s also carried out for different themes, concepts and expressions- from abstract or narrative performance to political and anti establishment.