Yes, indeed. Many people think that, because ballet terms are in French, that France must have been the origin of ballet. Of course, we ballet teachers know this, but remember, some of our students do not know that the true roots of ballet are, in fact, in Italy.
In my Thursday night class, we discussed how ballet terms can be remembered in French as long as we know how to translate them. When we learned that “bras bas” means “low arms”, it really helped them to remember that their arms should be rounded and low. We are working on using this as a preparatory pose before placing the hands on the barre. Then a student said to me, “But, why do all the terms have to be in French? Why can’t we just say everything in English?”
What a wonderful opportunity to share with my class the story of how and where ballet began!
Ruth H. Brinkerhoff shares the story briefly in her book, “Ballet is Spoken Here!”:
We begin a Ballet class by coming into the Ballet studio or classroom. Did you know that the word “Ballet” comes from the Italian word, “bailer” which means “a little dance”? That’s because Ballet actually began in Italy, not France. It was brought to France by Catherine de Medici who married Henri II, heir to the French throne, in the 1500’s. The French court loved Ballet. It fit right in with some of their own forms of entertainment. A few years later, another French king, Louis XIV, who loved to perform in the Court Ballets, started the first school for the learning of Ballet: the Academie de Danse in Paris in 1661. This explains why the origin of the language of Ballet is French: the first official Ballet school was in France.*
I then offered to my students to have a brief ballet history lesson each week. My, was I surprised at their enthusiasm! They really do want to learn about the art form they are in, and I’m thrilled to begin our history class. Always take advantage of those teachable moments with your students. You may be surprised at their eagerness to learn!
What tools do you use in your classes to teach your students ballet history? YouTube? Any books in particular? Let’s share our favorite resources in the comments below!
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