Tom47

Definition of Ballet

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Hi, I’m new here, I have a strong interest in ballet, but I do not dance and I am not sure of all the technical aspects of ballet. What I would like people to explain are the technical differences between ballet and other forms of dance. That is, what are the characteristics of ballet that could distinguish it from other forms of dance? I understand that different varieties of dance most likely blend into one another and that not all ballet would have all of the same characteristics, but I would appreciate some ideas as to how one might distinguish ballet from other types of dance.

Tom,

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Hi, I’m new here, I have a strong interest in ballet, but I do not dance and I am not sure of all the technical aspects of ballet. What I would like people to explain are the technical differences between ballet and other forms of dance. That is, what are the characteristics of ballet that could distinguish it from other forms of dance? I understand that different varieties of dance most likely blend into one another and that not all ballet would have all of the same characteristics, but I would appreciate some ideas as to how one might distinguish ballet from other types of dance.

Tom,

Pointe shoes, pointe shoes, pointe shoes! (I know, I know...all that Sheherezade situation, but...happy.png )

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Juliette in Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette" wears pointe shoes, but that doesn't make it ballet. Pointe shoes are a clue, but ballet was an art for centuries before pointe shoes were invented and pointe technique became developed and prominent. Or as Marc Haegeman posted over a decade ago,

Sometimes, very simplified, it's used as a synonym for ballet or dance with pointe shoes (usually distinct from "contemporary dance"). That's definitely not enough.

Since we're a site whose mission it is to discuss classical ballet and its development into neoclassicism, here are some links that address the question:

Classicism forum

Classicism #2 - definition and uses

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Thank you both for your answers. Helene, I am looking forward to reading the links you posted.

Tom,

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Juliette in Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette" wears pointe shoes, but that doesn't make it ballet. Pointe shoes are a clue, but ballet was an art for centuries before pointe shoes were invented and pointe technique became developed and prominent. Or as Marc Haegeman posted over a decade ago,

Sometimes, very simplified, it's used as a synonym for ballet or dance with pointe shoes (usually distinct from "contemporary dance"). That's definitely not enough.

I agree. "Not enough..."..."not only.." et al, but, I think it could be an honest, easy and ample start that has to do a lot with most of what we discuss here. Then, extra research and fine tuning can be done, or course...

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One could say it has to do with where the center of balance is held in the dancer and how it is held in relation to leg extensions... And how much turn-out in the supporting hip socket is maintained... How the spine is supported. But the problem still stays with "how".

There are plenty of superb internationally renowned world class ballet dancers today who have never put on pointe shoes.

Perhaps also the classical training discipline comes into play... Technique is almost more important than personal movement signature.

The problem is that ballet shares so many defining qualities with so many other forms of dance, but never all it's defining qualities.

But, I will say, ballet dancers usually seem to still look like ballet dancers when they try out other dance forms because of the way they carry themselves and the manner in which they attack movement.

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There are plenty of superb internationally renowned world class ballet dancers today who have never put on pointe shoes.

That is new for me, Amy. Let's take a random woman who dances. Even if she takes barre excercises, but still doesn't conquer-(by choice or not)-the pointe technique, and dances in a company that does not requires pointes...would she still be considered a ballet dancer...? I would not say so. I think for a woman to be said to be involved in ballet world she has put those pointes on and show them to the world. As per the rest, they are just "dancers". (Good thing in Spanish we make a very ample black and white distinction in between "Ballet" and "Danza". Flamenco female dancers make also the distinction in between their art and the rest, including ballet. They are "Bailaoras", vs. the pointe "Bailarinas". In English everybody is a "dancer").

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Are you saying David Hallberg is not a ballet dancer? Carlos Acosta?

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Amy thank you for your comment. It is the type of thing that I am looking for. It makes sense to me that ballet dancers hold themselves and support themselves differently. I will be looking for that the next time I watch ballet, which maybe tonight. A dancer once described to me the difference between ballet and modern dance as with ballet one is always in control, for example by “falling” to the floor, but with modern dance the dancer just lets herself fall and is not necessarily in control. I think I remember that right.

Tom,

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Cubanmiamiboy, as before thank you for your replies, however, as been pointed out I think ballet is more than dancing on pointe or toe dancing. For example, it seems to me that men do not dance on pointe and are ballet dancers. Also, I’ve seen ballets where, at least some of the female dancers do not wear pointe shoes or dance on pointe. (Am I saying that correctly?) I agree that toe dancing is common in ballet, but I do not feel it is a necessary or sufficient characteristic of the dance form. That is there could be ballet without toe dancing and that toe dancing is not automatically ballet.

Tom,

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Would anyone like to tackle a definition of "line"? I know it when I see it, but I've never been able to find a definition that isn't tautological.

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Angelica, I would also like to hear a definition of "line" although I may not know it even when I see it.

Tom,

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Are you saying David Hallberg is not a ballet dancer? Carlos Acosta?

Let's note I talked about "female dancers", and also that "ballet is woman"...happy.png . Men are there mainly tu support, but the clear distinction in between ballet and contemporary dancing is done mainly by females dancing on pointe vs. not.

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I would say ballet dancers draw themselves up higher than most modern techniques. It is tricky because a Graham dancer holds themselves differently than a Cunningham dancer, both are different ftom Limon, Horton, release technique I believe is something different still. Perhaps ballroom is more similar? But possibly not latin? And Flamenco dancers seem to hold themselves quite high but with energy driving downward... There is so much fusion nowadays, it makes citing differences even harder.

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There is so much fusion nowadays, it makes citing differences even harder.

Which is where the clear pointe distinction takes place. There's no way to go over that.

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Toe tapping? That Cirque de Solei act with pointe on lightbulbs? (will now see if can find it on youtube still).? That Chinese acrobatic Swan Lake? Pointe in sneakers? Georgian folk dance pointe in boots?

Is this ballet?

Or this?

Or this?

Admittedly they all think they are quoting "ballet".

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Toe tapping? That Cirque de Solei act with pointe on lightbulbs? (will now see if can find it on youtube still).? That Chinese acrobatic Swan Lake? Pointe in sneakers? Georgian folk dance pointe in boots?

Is this ballet?

No toe tapping...no sneakers nor boots. Pointe shoes that is. The chinese act is certainly detrimental to the artform, and it mixes it with acrobatics, but then Somova does it too, so...

When someone with no previous experience asks me that very question-(and many do,when one talks a lot about it)-that's my main answer so they can forget everything that has to do with all the soleils, dirty barefoot acts, rolling on floors contemporary companies and so on and so forth. When people are given a straight answer like that, and they start visualizing ballet=pointe shoes, it is easier for them to get the whole idea. Then, and only then, and after many pointes, one can tell about Sheherezade...

Edited to add: A ballerina can do both barefoot and toe dancing. A female dancer trained sans toe technique can't tell the same story, and still she doesn't cease to be a dancer. This is based on a story I heard many years ago in which Pavlova told Duncan "I can do what you do but you can't do what I do". True or not, that opened my eyes to a broad-(if incomplete, I admit it)- definition of "ballet" long time ago.

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It is an easy distinction and no professional calibre female ballet dancer is without pointe skills.

But when one looks at a lot of the new work presented at ballet companies, is it just modern choreography with pointe shoes added on or is there something now called contemporary ballet that is distinct in other ways from contemporary modern? It is a very tricky question.

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It is an easy distinction and no professional calibre female ballet dancer is without pointe skills.

But when one looks at a lot of the new work presented at ballet companies, is it just modern choreography with pointe shoes added on or is there something now called contemporary ballet that is distinct in other ways from contemporary modern? It is a very tricky question.

Well, in tht aspect I agree with you. I can't bear to call "ballet" to many stuff I've seen produced lately, in which the dancers are on their toes. Then I wouldn't call it, but the programme does so...

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Is Matts Ek ballet and Pina Bausch modern dance?

Matts Ek sample

Pina Bausch sample

MacGegor? Nacho Duato? Jiri Kylian? It has become very foggy out there... Which is which...

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Angelica, I would also like to hear a definition of "line" although I may not know it even when I see it.

Tom,

I will look at the other discussion board, but I raise the matter of "line" because I think it is the "line" that distinguishes ballet from every other form of dance. I don't think it's a question of pointe shoes, but rather, whether or not the dancers create the ballet "line" with their bodies. It goes back to what is called "placement," another word that could use a good definition. Maybe that's on the other board as well. One interesting thing about ballet training is that the training sculpts the body and develops the muscles in such a way that a ballet "line" is created (in those who have the physical capability, e.g., the potential for turnout). People trained in any other form of dance cannot create with their bodies a ballet "line."

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No, but they often create as much line.... Not all, but some seem very line conscious.

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Give me all the line you want, but if the woman can't stand on her toes, no ballet is gonna be done.

Also, I think there's a distinction in between performers and the art form itself. If the question would had been "what are the distinctive signs in a ballet dancer", then the answers would be different, because we would be talking about its carriers, which can have many trainings and can intertwine them-(although again, toe dancing would be the # 1 thing to look at, and I think that would be the # 1 question for an employer who wants to hire a female ballet performer, way before getting into the whole line thing). A ballet dancer does have distinctive lines, definitely...but one has to have a very experienced eye to see it. Now, the art form itself equals toe dancing, and Miss Taglioni sealed the deal all the way to Miss Osipova. MCB does pieces by M. Morris, and I don't think they are ballet pieces. Mark Morris company titles itself as "MM Dance group". Then, if what you want is trying to differenciate a "ballet dancer" woman from a mere "dancer" based just in lines, without knowing if she knows how to dance on her toes, there're chances that you can be fooled-(I would, certainly...).

I suspect I tend to focus more in the motion, the movement, the ballet foot and its distinctive shoe and the marvels that it does, which the rest of the other dancers from different dance categories can't , instead of the placement and lines. (But again...my first ballerinas were women with very different body types and physiques that those favored by the majority, so I don't care too much for the Skoriks of the world. Give me 32 clean fouettes and we're in business)

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Hi, I’m new here, I have a strong interest in ballet, but I do not dance and I am not sure of all the technical aspects of ballet. What I would like people to explain are the technical differences between ballet and other forms of dance. That is, what are the characteristics of ballet that could distinguish it from other forms of dance? I understand that different varieties of dance most likely blend into one another and that not all ballet would have all of the same characteristics, but I would appreciate some ideas as to how one might distinguish ballet from other types of dance.

Tom,

Welcome, Tom. Interesting thread! I'd like to respond to your post as a serious lover of ballet - please note that I am not a dancer. Ballet is distinguished from other forms of dance by its specific classical vocabulary, turnout of the feet and hips and the five basic positions which form the foundation and basis of the steps, and its strict training syllabus, which takes years. While people who study non-ballet styles (modern, jazz, etc.) are dancers, one cannot be a ballet dancer without the rigorous formal training and practice (along with the requisite artistic talent, I might add) it demands. I think of ballet as the use of the human body as a classical musical instrument and, just as a concert pianist or violinist must practice daily to remain proficient to be able to play complex music, so a professional ballet dancer must train daily, in addition to rehearsing, performing and learning new works. Ballet is also, as pointed out by many here, distinguished by the wearing of pointe shores and dancing en pointe, in most cases only the female ballet dancer but occasionally a male dancer when required to dance en pointe in a travesti or comic role. You may know of the all-male ballet company devoted to lovingly sending up the most cherished ballets who dance en pointe, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, and they are a formidable group of ballet dancers, indeed! For me, one of the very beautiful aspects of ballet is that it developed from Italian Renaissance dance forms and was formally codified by the French in the 17th century - the steps danced today date from that time. How cool is that!

Some people have called ballet a sport because of its extreme athleticism and use of acrobatics, but it is not a sport, it's an art.

There are many good books on the history, development and the art of ballet and some of my favorites are:

  • Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101
  • Jack Anderson's Ballet and Modern Dance
  • Jennifer Homans' Apollo's Angels
  • Franklin Stevens' Dance As Life and many others.

I also refer to Gail Grant's Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet with the DVD Video Dictionary of Classical Ballet, which demonstrates the steps. This is a way for me as a non-dancer to learn the more technical aspects of the art of ballet.

So, you mentioned you might be attending a ballet - what company? What ballet companies do you enjoy? I love ballet to distraction, but my very favorite company is New York City Ballet which I've had the privilege of seeing for many years at Saratoga Performing Arts in the summer (in NYC, too,!).

I look forward to reading your posts. ~ Karen

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