Boys' Ballet Costumes


Figure 1.--While not popular with most boys, some are very enthusiatic about dancing. The black leotards and dancing shorts worn by these boys show that they are Europeans--probably Russaians.

The origins of clasical ballet are not fully understood, but are know to have begun in Italy during the Renaisance and and then refined in France. Ballet is a type of dance in which a company of trained performers either singly or in groups interpret music by means of the choregraphic art. Ballet requires enormous physical dexterity and strength and years of mental and physical training. It has become a passion for girls in Europe and America, but boys have viewed dance, especially ballet, differently--depending on what country they come from. The costumes used for ballet reflect its origins in the Renaissance. Boys usually wear tights, often black, with leotards or "T" shirts for practice and a wide range of costumes for performance reflecting the themes of the various ballets. Common performance costumes for boys include princes, soldiers, mice, clowns, and much more.

Definition

Ballet can be defined in several different ways. First, ballet can be defined historivally. Classical ballet can be described as a dance style that grew from court dancing in france and Italy, then to be further developed by individuals arround the world in various ways at various times and hence classical ballet is anything that is based on this technique as it is in the present. Second, another way to define ballet simply describing it physically. Ballet is a dance style that typically uses linear or slightly circular shapes on mostly mid and high levels. The torso is held erect, though there is some back articulation and the feet are alway extend when not flat on the ground. It is very stylised and abstract. It most often retells a known fairy story and has very set structure in reference to the order of dancers. Third, sone bekieve that a ballet is truly a ballet if the choreograher believes that it is. If you set out to choreograph a ballet you will choreograph a ballet. It maybe a modern adaption of classical ballet but it is still classical ballet.

Historical Background

Owing to its resemblance to the chorus of the classic Greek tragedy, attempts have been made to trace ballet back to the pantomimic, sacrficial dances of antiquity. The earliest know ballet peformance was staged in Milan at the wedding of the Duke of Milan to Isabel of Aragon in 1489. Modern ballet clearly originated in Italy where it was employed as a court spectacle. In its infancy it consisted of song, recitatin, music, and dance. Ballet was carried to the French court during the time of Catherine de Medicis, Queen of France (1547-59). The growth of court luxury under Louis XIII and Louis XIV provided the opportnity for ballet to grow in importance and it became a favored diversion. It was during the reign of Louis XIV that ballet was first performed on the public stage.


Figure 2.--This boy demonstrates a grandplie, one of the classic positions of ballet.

The Dance

Some believe that ballet is the most difficult type of dance. Performers have to keep their shoulders back, legs striate, and toes pointed. Dancers have to constantly think of these positions and combinations and at the same time smile. The worst part is that you have to think of them all at the same time. Classical ballet was brought to the fore by such great teachers as Carlo Blasis, C.P. Johansen, Legat, and Cecchetti. Classical style is based on the turnout, the five positions of the feet, pointe, turns, elevation and extensions.

Training

Ballet requires enormous physical dexterity and strength and years of mental and physical training. Some countries select children, both boys and girls, at an early age and train them in pretigious state boarding schools with a special emphasis on music and dance. This was the system in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The early selection and state-supported training in schools provides a level of training that can not be duplicated. In America, children are trained at private dance accademies at their own expense without state support. They live at home and attend dancing school several times a week. Some European countries provide state support, but the system varies from country to country.

Benefits for Children

Ballet enthusiasts point to many benefits for children to pursue dance. Those aspiring to a professional career Must draw on these qualities, but everyone who needs to deal with others on a business or social level will find these most beneficial. The students of ballet learn the rules and guidelines and virtually teach themselves, valuable properties in getting along in any environment--the workplace or at home.

Physical Demands

Because of the refinements of ballet and the participation of girls, the physical demands of the dance are often ignored. The seemingly effotless performance of dancers often belies the physical demands placed upon them. It may appear beautiful and effortless, but ballet is in fact more like a contact sport when it comes to injury risk, researchers report. And the risk seems to come from both physical and psychological stress. In an 8-month study of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet Company, researchers found that over 60 percent of dancers sustained at least one injury that kept them from performing. This injury rate is similar to those in sports such as football and wrestling. Ronald E. Smith of the University of Washington in Seattle led the study. The findings are published in the October 2000 issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping. Along with tracking injuries among the dancers, Smith's team questioned them about life stresses and performance anxiety. The investigators found that the pressure-filled world of ballet seems to create both physical anxiety--such as muscle tension and hyperventilation--and mental stress, all of which was related to injury risk. Compared with the average college athlete, the dancers experienced slightly less physical stress but more mental anxiety, the report indicates. Smith and his colleagues conclude that some injuries could be prevented by teaching dancers to manage their stress. [Anxiety, Stress and Coping, October 2000, Vol. 13, pp. 269-288.]

Boys in Ballet

Ballet is a major activity in Russia and boys have participated enthusiatically. I do not know if all the changes sweeping Russia is affecting this. The same can not be said about American boys. The same lack of enthusiasm is true in Britain, but I am less sure of the attitudes of boys in the various European countries. Some American mothers used to take dance lessons, but this no longer occurs. It is now more likely to be the boy's own idea. Macaully McCaughlin, for example, was very enthusiastic about ballet.


Figure 3.--Many clasical ballets have parts for boys. The most famous is the holiday staple, the Nutcracker.

Ballet Costumes

Actual costumes for perforamnces vary widely depending on the particular ballet being performed and the child's role in it. Practice costumes are more standard, but do vary from school to school.

Historical development

The development of dance wear amd costumes are inextricably intertwined with the development of the dance itself. Many ballet articles are now used by dancers in other disciplined, but they were developed as part of the development of ballet. Other articles are destinctive ballet gear such as the point shoe and tutu. Royal patronage and even the French Revolution played important roles in the development of ballet and dancewear.

Practice Costumes

Boys practice costumes vary depending on the dance school. Classic ballet schools like the ??? in Moscow have the boys practice in t-shirt like dance shirts and trunk-like shorts. Other schools insist on tights, but this may discourage boys in countries like America where there is no strong tradition for boys learning and participating in ballet. About the worst thing that boys can be calledin America is a sissy and wearing tights and other ballet wear is something that most American boys woulod want to hidse. American dance schools may allow boys, at least beginners, to dance in short pants or other clothes that the boys feel comfortble in. Many are quite shy about traditional ballet clothes like tights.

Performance Costumes

Several classic ballets have parts for children, including boys. These ballets have a variety of parts for children. Some require almost no ballet training. Other parts require very demanding training. As fewer boys in America articipate in ballet than girls, these parts are sometimes danced by girls. The costuming varies subsantially, depending on the production. Some of the classical ballets in which boys have roles include: Hansel and Gretle, The Nutcracker, Peter and the Wolf, the Queen of Spades, and many more. The roles and thus the costumes in these ballets are higly varied. There are some parts for boys in period dress. Other parts range from princes to clowns, mice, soldiers, and much more.

National Trends

While developed in Italy and France, no where did ballet become as popular as Russia. There ballet is highly regarded and boys who are interested in classical dance are not looked down on by other boys. Part of the reason may be that after the 1917 Revolution, ballet was supported by the state and considerable prestige and benefits were conferred on boys and girls from an early age. American boys and boys in many other countries are very shy about dancing lessons in general and ballet in particular. There appears to be, however, growing interest with ballet among boys in several countries. There are many countries, however, that HBC still has no information concerning the instructional program or the popularity of ballet among boys.

Garments

The principal ballet garment are tights, but there are many others such as blouses, toe shoes, leotards, and other garments. These garments are worn for both practice and performances. Boys, at least boys in America and Britain are often shy about wearing these garments. It is not such an kissue in many other countries. There are significant differences between countries as what the boys tend to wear for practive. Performance costumes are more standardized. The garments are designed to allow the maximum of free mobility while preserving modesty. These garments such as tights have been standard wear since the modern ballet first appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries. Besides the garments actually worn, parodies of boys are sometimes made by outfitting them in girl's ballet garments.


Figure 5.--This parrody of ballet appeared on a classic television show. Such parodies are seen in America and Britain. HBC is not sure if they are populr in other countries.

Parodies

Ballet costumes are commonly used in commedy parodies. The costumes are used to accentuate comedic situations by American an British writers. In these countries the popular culture strongly relates ballet and dance in general to girls. Thus boys dressed in ballet costumes are often perceived as humerous. HBC has less information on other countries such as Russia and Fraance where ballet is more acceptble. Presumably boys in ballet costumes would be preceived as less humerous in these countries as ballet is more accepted in the popular culture. Interestingly, the comic device used is generally to outfit boys in girls ballet costumes like tutus, a garment a boy taking ballet would never wear.

Ballet and Other Dance Forms

Many dancers specailize in ballet to the exclusion of other dance forms. Others dancers experiment with other dance forms or at least are iunterested in a varaiety dances. In some cases there are important simiarities in the skill sets. Some ballet dancers say, however, that other dances interfere with their balet. Experiences and opinions vary on this.

Ballet Movies

Relatively little information is available on boys' ballet costumes from movies. HBC know of only a few movies that deal with boys doing ballet. One is a British film, Billy Elliot. The other is a Russian documentary, The Children of Theater Street. Please let HBC know if you are aware of any films which should be added to this list.

Individual Expereiences

Some HBC readers have provided information on their or the experiences of others leaning ballet. We do not have very many entries here, but would be interested in adding experiences that readers may wish to contribute.






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Created: February 14, 1999
Last updated: 6:26 PM 2/24/2007