Ballet is a major art form that has been practiced and performed for centuries. Yet, for those who have no experience with ballet (me), we have no idea what it’s like to be part of the ballet world. I work part-time with the National Ballet School of Canada, and these students not only study for their high school diploma, but they live and breathe ballet classes, rehearsals, and performances! Even when I’m surrounded by these dancers, I still have no idea what their world is like. I did some internet digging and found out these interesting and historical facts on what life is and was like for ballet dancers. There are many interesting things but here are the top five on my list:

Two ballet dancers in black leotards stretching in a dance studio
Photo by Budgeron Bach

1. Men, not woman, were the first ones to do ballet

This is an interesting fact because it is more widely know/accepted that women compete in ballet more so than men do. However, did you know that, years ago, women were not allowed to dance in public? It’s true! Ballet was first introduced in Italy during the 15th century, and women were only allowed to participate during the 16th century (1681 to be precise) in public dancing. What happened when a character in a ballet piece was female? Well, a man would put on a wig and do their best to portray a femme fatale. This was much like in Shakespeare’s time when his ensembles were all male.

2. Police Officers can perform ballet too!

In Romania, it’s no surprise for police officers to take ballet classes. Why? The classes would provide them with more grace and ease, especially to manage those crazy traffic jams. Apparently, classes are paid for at least a month and the officers can take the lessons wearing their full uniform. Click here to read an article on police officers, in a city called Timisoara, taking ballet lessons.

3. The “Leotard” is named after Leotard (the person)

Jules Leotard was a French acrobatic and aerialist performer back in the 1880s, (also the person who created the art of trapeze). He created the one-piece body suit that we know as the “leotard” and was consequently named after it many years after his death in 1886. The body suit is a skin-tight, “unisex”, one-piece garment that covers the body from the shoulders to the crotch, as you can see by the photos in this article.

Two ballet dancers in costume dancing together in a ballet studio
Photo by Budgeron Bach

4. Do not say “Good Luck” to Ballet Dancers

In a previous article I wrote titled “Theatre Superstitions” one of the superstitions was to say “break a leg” instead of good luck. Much like that, ballet dancers prefer if you tell them “toi toi toi” or “merde,” instead of wishing them good luck. In folklore saying “toi toi toi” helped ward off spells and hexes. It is used in performing arts as a way to wish success for a performer. As well, some of you may know that “merde” translates from French to “shit” in English. Why would ballet dancers wish for people to say “shit” to them? Way back when, animals were part of ballet performances. Saying “merde” was a warning to other dancers to watch out for the animal droppings on stage.

5. King Louis XIV the Ballet Dancer

Yes, the French King Louis XIV was also known as a fellow ballet dancer. He would perform in ballet shows and make appearances in multiple roles. This all started at the age of 15, when he created “Le Ballet de la Nuit,” a twelve hour show consisting of 43 mini-ballet performances. He starred in it as “the sun” and ended up repeating the performance six times in one month. This was a way of showing his masculine power, while enjoying his love of the dance.

There you have it, the top five interesting facts of ballet. Looking back I realize these facts are more historical then current, but I’m sure most ballet dancers are familiar with them. Do read more or talk to someone and what it’s like to be in the ballet world. Better yet, go see a show and immerse yourself in the beauty of the dance!