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A Brief History of Ballet & Point Exercises

Ballet can be traced back to the late 1400s as a form of royal entertainment in Italy.
At this time ballet was not performed on the toes and as such no pointe exercises where developed and would not be for another 400 years.
At the wedding of the Duke of Milan in 1489, a series of ballet dances was performed to complement each of the many dinner courses.
Ballet dancing became a popular way for royals to pass their time.
In 1581, at the wedding of King Henry II of France, his bride Catherine de Medici performed a five and a half hour long show that is considered to have been the first court ballet, Ballet Comique de la Reine Louise.
The story was performed mostly by royalty and costing millions of francs, was used in part, to demonstrate the wealth and elegance of the French court.
Dancing in French court continued to be a popular pastime, reaching a peak during the reign of King Louis XIV who is well known for his love of dancing.
In 1661 he founded the 'Academie Royale de Danse' to perfect and formalise the art form of ballet.
Pierre Beauchamps, the king's ballet master, formalised the five basic foot positions of classical ballet and adapted the fencing stance of turned out feet to become accepted practice in ballet dance.
Soon after Louis retired from dancing, ballet moved to theatres and hence was less frequently performed by royalty.
The dancers were mostly male and wore masks, wigs, heeled shoes and hooped skirts, hiding much of the foot work.
In 1681, the first female dancers performed Le Triomphe de l'Amour in a theatre.
This lead to an influx of female dancers including Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo (1710 - 1770) who was the first dancer to use the entrechat quatre and introduced several other changes including wearing slippers instead of heels and lifting the hemline to above the ankles.
As the feet could now be seen, foot work became more developed.
In 1760 Jean George Noverre (1727 - 1810) developed ballet d'action by removing the masks, wigs and bulky costumes, allowing more natural expressions to be incorporated into the story of the ballet.
Noverre spent time in London where he developed this style of 'pantomime ballet' and took it back to Lyon where he felt it would be more accepted away from the court style that still prevailed in Paris.
Through a series of letters and texts he wrote out his theories for the development of expressive dance which were criticised by his peers yet remain the basis of ballet today.

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