Ballet Evolved: How ballet class has changed over the centuries

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Ballet Evolved: How ballet class has changed over the centuries 5

From its origins at the French court, the ballet class has evolved through the centuries. Join Ursula Hageli as she explores this ballet tradition with dancers of The Royal Ballet.

Modern ballet class starts with increasingly complex exercises at the barre before the dancers move into the centre. It’s a format that has remained more or less unchanged since ballet technique first began to be codified in the early 19th century, by the influential teacher and dancer Carlo Blasis. But the exercises themselves have changed quite a bit, as former ballet mistress Ursula Hageli explains in this Ballet Evolved Insight.

Ursula is joined by six Royal Ballet dancers to demonstrate how exercises have changed from Blasis’s era through the late 19th century and right up to the modern dancer: ‘we’re going to see side by side how the dancers have got much more supple and movements have got bigger’.

One fundamental change in ballet since Blasis’s day is the dancers’ turn-out, which has ‘increased from 45 degrees to 90 degrees, which is actually a very difficult thing to do – we have to do that by holding onto the muscles at the top of the leg. However, when all this turn-out started it wasn’t quite as well thought through, so they had a vice to turn out the feet – which must have been excruciatingly painful’.

An obvious difference to the class itself is the length of exercises. Class today at The Royal Ballet lasts about 90 minutes (45 minutes each at the barre and in the centre) and covers a wide range of movements. In Blasis’s day ‘the barre used to last just 15 minutes, because they just did two or three exercises and that was it. Today’s dancers are doing more exercises but of shorter duration’.

💬 Comments on the video

Oh man the 1820 plies are so slow, I woulda died of frustration if I was doing those

Author — Maddie Fishblob


Present day ballerina casually puts her foot in a giant rubber band and bends her back like 180 degrees. Yup, seems normal.

Author — Jaina Solo


i don't know how i got here but this is super interesting

Author — The Lemon


The 'plastic poses' had me in stitches. NO, MOM I'M NOT BEING DRAMATIC, IM JUST DOING MY STRETCHES!

Author — Anne Katrine Kamper


I swear I thought she said Donald Trump.

Author — Onigbajamo


Whoever decided men should wear tights was an absolute genius.

Author — Eugene Danker


I did ballet for several years, but I never stayed with one class, so I just did beginner's ballet for ten years. Long story short, I'm really good at stretches not so great at dancing

Author — themelonsoup


my ballet class is doing everything the 1880s way haha

Author — hanah


That was completely fascinating. I want another hour of that, minimum.

Author — katie kawaii


Donald Trump is a ballerina now?!?!?!!?

Author — Tarkeria Gough


I enjoy these historical comparisons because I'm interested in ballet from a general fitness/movement perspective so its nice to see how things started; the plastic poses and slow movements are more isometric strength training, compared to some of the fast small movements you see in the modern dancers.

Author — Karl Toth


I wanted to learn ballet but I never had the money to when I was little, now I'm 19 and never took a dance class in my life can i still sign up for classes even though my age?

Author — Mariel ME


Marcellino is adorable and what a handsome man!

Author — 1veggiemonster


I can feel the pain of a 16 count grand plié through my screen

Author — Lyla Harris


Funny, but historically dancers used to have much longer careers than they do now, so they must have been doing something right. I would not make fun.

Author — Laura Lovett


I would have liked this to be zoomed out the entire time so it's easier to really compare, still I found this very informative and interesting.

Author — Isolde van der Meulen


'90 degree turnout is hard to achieve' *laughs in joint hypermobility*

Author — Slated


different types of "batmans" w/ French accent.

Author — jaydel3


It's the whole idea of dancing that has changed. Today the athletic component is very prominent. In the early XIX century you were gracefully telling a story without words.

Author — idraote


when you figure out you did 6 years of 1880 mixed with some 1820 classes... it does explain a lot of things...

Author — SwannBella