Myths About Ballet

Popular culture has made ballet accessible to the masses. Anyone with access to a television can see dancers (or actors playing dancers) perform, thanks to movies like Center Stage and shows like So You Think You Can Dance. But even with the flow of pop culture references, ballet remains off-limits for a large percentage of the population—particularly young people and, especially, young men.

This guide debunks eight of the most common myths about ballet. If you or those around you are reluctant to go see a ballet, chances are one of these misconceptions is skewing the perception of what is actually an exciting and dynamic art. So read up!

1. It’s a Girl Thing

This myth is untrue, but so virulently believed that it still keeps many potentially successful male dancers out of the theatre. The idea of sitting down to watch sparkly tutus and men in tights remains an affront to the modern concept of masculinity. However, ballet goes far deeper into the complexity of human beings than just the tutus they wear and the slippers they dance on.

Athleticism is key in any ballet, as demonstrated in everything from superhuman jumps to breakneck turns across the stage. The men and women train from a young age to perform physical feats that few athletes from other sports could even attempt: including seamlessly transferring all your weight from the toes of one foot to another, jumping several feet into the air and landing silently, and doing multiple revolutions with only a split second to build up full momentum.

If you enjoy watching the athleticism in other sports (think Jordan’s dunk from the free throw line or Tom Brady’s perfect spiral throw), you will appreciate the flawless, physical boundlessness of ballet.

Hot Tip: Manly Muscle

The men of ballet are incredible on stage, but also extreme athletes in their own right. If you’re having trouble coming to grips with the athleticism of ballet, check out videos on iSport of some of its male stars—you’ll be shocked at the amount of muscular strength and power they display.

2. It’s Always Sickly Sweet

Not every ballet is an ideal fairytale like the Nutcracker or a childlike romance like Sleeping Beauty. Sentimental stories like Romeo and Juliet or Spartacus are just a small portion of the enormous range of emotions ballet can show.

If you’re in the mood for something modern and dark, try Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Want a laugh with bravado? Don Quixote is a great, spicy pick. The bottom line? There’s a ballet for every mood or personality, and many pack serious emotional punch.

3. It’s for Old People

The idea that ballet is only for older generations is now obsolete. The past twenty years have seen an evolution in ballet that has transformed dance from head (or tiara) to toes.

Fans of rap, hip hop, or rock music can now see their favorite jams combined with an extraordinary high level of dance in ballets like Radio and Juliet or In the Upper Room. These ballets use modern music and clothes with extreme choreography in a way that melds contemporary life with the three hundred year old vocabulary of classical dance.

4. It’s Super Expensive

Tickets to the ballet have never been astronomically high, despite the persistent belief that it is an activity for the rich. In major cities around the world, you can easily purchase a ticket to the ballet for under thirty dollars (depending on the day and seating). In fact, a ticket to the ballet will usually cost about the same, or less than, a ticket to a rock concert.

Keep in mind that most ballets are performed several times in a season, making the prices lower than, say, a one night engagement that goes on the road. As such, it’s more affordable to see one of the ten performances of Swan Lake than the one night only showing of Red Angels.

5. Ballet is Incredibly Boring

If you’ve ever enjoyed sitting through a movie, you’ll probably enjoy a ballet. Ballets are about the same length (give or take) as a standard feature film, and there’s even an intermission between acts so you can process the performance thus far and stretch out your legs.

The key to watching a ballet is actually, well, watching it. Listen to the music and read what the story’s about in your program. Everything happening on stage has a purpose, just like a good movie. And, unlike even the best of films, ballets contain athletic peaks of virtuosity that draw in the crowd—such as the miraculous 32 fouetté turns performed by a ballerina in the coda of just about any classical ballet.

Mental Edge

The more you think about the length of a ballet or whether or not you’re bored, the more likely you are to actually be bored. When you’re at the ballet, watch it for what it is, and let yourself be immersed in the story and the music. Letting your mind wander or getting too wrapped up in how you should be thinking about it will make the show less enjoyable.

6. All Dancers Stand on Their Toes for the Entire Show

One of the most laughable myths to dancers is the widespread belief that all ballet dancers—male and female—stand on their toes throughout the show. This is not only untrue for men (who never, except in humorous roles, go en pointe), but it can also be untrue for women.

In most classical ballets, the women are in pointe shoes and go up and down on their toes for most movements. Other dancers may wear flat shoes, while still others don heels for character dances. In more modern ballets, the women may not even wear pointe shoes, opting for the natural ease of movement that comes with soft slippers.

7. It Never Changes

Ballet may have its roots in the late 17th century, but it has been consistently evolving since its conception. Since the late 20th to early 21st century, ballet has changed drastically in terms of both what it requires of dancers and what it requires of its audience.

Performance music has changed to include any and everything under the sun, from classical and baroque orchestras to hip hop and rock blasted over the sound system. The dancers, once forced to wear tights and tutus, now dress based on the ballet—which may call for them to wear street clothes or haute couture style inventions. New technology has also been incorporated into the ballet world, whether in the form of LCD numbers changing on the dancers’ chests to backdrop projections that look positively psychedelic.

All in all, ballet is one art form that never goes out of style.

8. You Have to Be a Connoisseur to Appreciate Ballet

Ballet, despite its intricacies, is whatever you make it out to be; there’s no such thing as a right or wrong way to watch a ballet. If you know the name of every step and dynamic move, you can watch the ballet from a technical standpoint and analyze the execution of each dance.

On the other hand, if you’ve never seen a ballet before and can’t tell the difference between a plié and a pirouette, you can still fully appreciate the performance based on the pure magic of the athletic feats and artistic flourish. Watch it for what it is and how it makes you feel. Others may know the lingo better, but it doesn’t make them a superior audience member!

Start Watching!

The only wrong way to look at a ballet is not to watch one at all. So if you’re keen on poking around the mysterious world of dance, buy tickets to a ballet in town or rent a DVD of a performance. Ballet is a lot like wine tasting—you’ll love some and hate others, but the experience makes it all worth the trip!

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