Ballet is much more than tutus and leotards set to classical music. It’s an art form rich in history, culture and technique spanning centuries further than your little sister’s recital. Ballet is a Western performance dance dating back to the 15th century, originally as a dance interpretation of fencing. Since then, ballet’s evolved from short performances in between opera scenes to its own theatrical performances. In 1661, King Louis XIV established the Académie Royale de Musique et de Danse in Paris, which is why many ballet terms are in French. Today, ballet has transformed into several different, highly technical styles such as:

  • Classical Ballet

  • Neoclassical Ballet

  • Modern Dance

  • What’s the Difference Between Ballet and Modern Dance?

Classical Ballet

"The Dance Class" by Edgar Degas, 1874

Classical ballet is the most formal style of ballet. The style emphasizes method and execution of movement based on five basic positions. Ballet students typically begin their education at a very young age because of the ease in training and the “life expectancy” of ballet dancers in terms of strength. Only when the basics have been mastered can a student begin to go en pointe.
Classical ballet performances rely on a narrative pretext, meaning that the audience must know the basic story line to follow along with the music and complex movements of the piece. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, for example, does not involve any vocal performance, but we know everything that happens in Clara’s dream because of the dances combined with costumes and music.

Neoclassical Ballet

Also known as “Balanchine,” neoclassical ballet emerged in the 20th century. While it retains classical ballet technique, its performances rely on the dance itself, rather than a narrative. It also features extreme tempos and more technical feats.
Much work in the neoclassical school of ballet is owed to the famous Russian choreographer George Balanchine. Some argue that Balanchine transformed the ballet world with his choreography for Apollo in 1928.

Modern Dance

Often incorrectly associated with bizarre performances from the 1970s, the term modern dance actually refers to a style of dance that focuses on a dancer’s own interpretations of music or emotion, and encompasses many genres. Modern dance began in 20th century as a rebellion against the strict rules in step and costume in classical ballet. For example, instead of using a set arrangement of already formed classical steps like ballet, modern technique allows for dancers to use their own emotions to create their own steps.

What’s the Difference Between Classical Ballet and Modern Dance?

Classical BalletModern Dance
Follows a structured set of rules and techniquesFocuses on steps originated from the dancer’s own emotions and formed into a technique
Technique is stoneTechnique is reinvented
Emphasizes a dancer’s ability to appear weightlessEmphasizes human element and the use of gravity
Upright, erect postureAll kinds of postures


3 Responses to “Ballet”

  1. 1 martinemussies
    February 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Great post! 🙂 I love your explanation as well as the beautiful picture above. Your blog will be added to my favorites, that’s for sure. Keep on dancing! Best wishes from the Netherlands xMM

  2. April 28, 2010 at 3:40 am

    Amen! I ❤ this! You've got everything spot on! 😉

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