Sarah Totty and Erica Spikes

History of Ballet

Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. Noblemen and women were treated to lavish events, especially wedding celebrations, where dancing and music created an elaborate spectacle. Dancing masters taught the steps to the nobility, and the court participated in the performances. In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman, wife of King Henry II of France and a great patron of the arts, began to fund ballet in the French court. Her elaborate festivals encouraged the growth of ballet de cour, a program that included dance, decor, costume, song, music and poetry. A century later, King Louis XIV helped to popularize and standardize the art form. A passionate dancer, he danced many roles himself, including that of the Sun King in Ballet de la nuit. His love of ballet fostered its elevation from a pasttime for amateurs to an endeavor requiring professional training.

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Raising to balls of feet with a Plié.


Raising to balls of feet without plié.

First Position

Heels touching

Second Position

Feet hip width apart.

Third Position

Heel to arch.

Fourth Position

One foot in front of the other with at least 12inches between

Fifth Position

Heel to toe.


Stretched leg is extended straight through the ankle and the foot is completely pointed


Position with one leg bent at a 90 degree angle lifted off the floor


Melting working leg bends in coupé and supporting leg pliés, then both legs straighten together.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky / Nina Kaptsova - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
Waltz of the Snowflakes Royal Ballet
Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake - four little swans


George Balanchine
Born on January 22, 1904, in St. Petersburg, Russia, George Balanchine is regarded as one of the best and famous choreographers of the 20th century, who brought in the contemporary style of dancing. He was also the pioneer of the ballet dance form in the United States and the ballet master of New York Ballet. George was 79 when he died on April 30, 1983.

Bob Fosse
If anyone was known to be among the most influential men and famous dance choreographers in the history of jazz dance form, it was Bob Fosse. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 23, 1927, Bob, apart from being a choreographer, was also American musical theater director, screenwriter and film director. He passed away on September 23, 1987.

Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey was one of the famous black choreographers (African-American choreographers) and dancers in the history of modern dance techniques. He was born on January 5, 1931 in Rogers, Texas, United States. His spiritual and gospel background were the primary elements of his unique choreography. Alvin passed away in December 1, 1989.

Katherine Dunham
Katherine Dunham, born on June 22, 1909 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, USA was one of those influential and famous dance choreographers who helped to establish black dance as an art form in America. Katherine was a dancer, an author, educator and she also received training as an anthropologist.

Paul Taylor
Among the famous choreographers who are still among us is Paul Taylor. He was born on June 29 1930 Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. He founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954. The basic element of his choreography, which makes him different from others, is his use of everyday gestures as a part of his dance moves.

Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev gained bigger audiences than any other dancer. Nureyev was a Russian dancer and made his first appearance in London with the Royal Ballet.

When Nureyev performed Giselle with the famed Margot Fonteyn, their partnership grew to make a famous history in ballet.

Nureyev gave a new light to the male dancer and expressed an artistic skill that had not been seen before.

Nureyev became was not only a talented dancer but also a choreographer, director, partner showing true influence on ballet history.

Marie Taglioni

Marie Taglioni became the great influence on the Romantic era of ballet.

Taglioni was soon remembered as a legend in ballet after starring in the role La Sylphide where she created a new and idolized image for ballet pointe shoes.

Taglioni was born into family of dance. Her father, Filippo Taglioni, was an Italian choreographer and therefore it gave her the unique opportunity to dance a ballet especially created for her.

The La Sylphide performance soared her fame to success and the audience admired her graceful and airy quality in pointe shoes.

Taglioni was also the first to shorten her ballet skirt which displayed her intricate pointe work for the audience to see.

Taglioni continued to teach after her dancing career and it is clear to say she became one of the most famous Italian ballerinas. The audience loved her so much that they even named cakes after her!

Vasiav Nijinsky

Today, Vaslav Nijinsky is still remembered as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the early 20th century.

Nijinsky was a Russian dancer and rose to fame through his unique individuality and magnificent jumps.

Nijinsky first joined the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, in 1907. He was a magnificent classical dancer and performed in the well known ballets such as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

Nijinsky was recognised for his range and strength in characterisation and had many roles created for him.

When he later went on to join Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909, the choreographer Michel Fokine created Le Spectre de la rose especially for him

Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova is known as one of the finest classical ballet dancers. A Russian ballerina, widely recognised today, she is also particularly famous for her creation of The Dying Swan.

The Dying Swan was choreographed especially for Pavlova, by Mikhail Fokine. She danced it about 4,000 times and became the first ballerina to tour around the world.

Pavlova was accepted with the Imperial Ballet in 1899 and appeared in La Fille Mal Gardee the same year she joined. By 1905, Pavlova was appointed prima ballerina.