Ballet in America: 5 Facts

Ballet began in Paris, France in 1661. It traveled from there to Italy and Russia, where ballet masters continued to teach and improve upon ballet's methods. Somehow, Ballet made it to America. But how, when, where, why and by whom? The history of ballet in America is rich, and full of interesting stories. Below, we have listed five short facts to know on ballet in America.

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How Did Ballet Arrive?

In the late 1800s, international artists would come to America bringing with them varying degrees of classical ballet training. The first, Adeline Genee, brought classical ballet around 1908, but she mostly performed in vaudeville shows. People called her dancing "toe dances." Then, Anna Pavlova, the angel, the ballet superstar came to America. Pavlova had danced with the Maryinsky Theatre and toured with Sergei Diaghilev's famous ballet troupe. Pavlova cast a spell over America with her dancing, and suddenly everyone was curious. What was this thing she was doing? Enter Lincoln Kirstein. A wealthy American man who adored the arts. Kirstein invited George Balanchine to America, with a goal in mind: To found a fantastic ballet school and form a company in America. Balanchine arrived in America on October 17, 1933 to do just that. Thus, on January 2, 1934, the School of American Ballet was born, and the company would be called New York City Ballet. The school had only been open for 3 months, when Balanchine wanted to start choreographing pieces. Only 17 ladies showed up. George Balanchine's teaching and style of dancing became known as "American Classicism." Another important American Ballet school is American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Mikhail Baryshnikov worked with ABT as the Artistic Director bringing classics to the stage.

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Photo: Anna Pavlova, 1905, source

When Did Ballet Arrive?

In the 1800s and early 1900s, ballet was only appearing on vaudeville stages, which people didn't take as "serious" art. It wasn't until the 1920s and 1930s that ballet started to be considered a serious art, presented in formal environments. Also, with the creation of a school, it helped set the tone for people's understanding of how serious the art of ballet is.

Where Did Ballet Arrive?

Ballet was first seen in many different cities, since the international artists came to America on tours. Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes toured America in 1916, (Kansas, the West Coast, Canada, Texas and Oklahoma), 1930 and 1940. Pavlova's company was also touring. They were planting seeds for ballet to be accepted in America. But the concentrated focus for ballet's arrival was New York City.

Why Did Ballet Come to America?

Because ballet is amazing! But also because of the outbreak of World War I. War brought Russian artists into America, where they began to teach privately or perform on tours. World War II also brought ballet artists to America. In fact, it was the 1961 defection of Rudolf Nureyev in a Paris airport, followed by Natalia Makarova's defection in London, and by Mikhail Baryshnikov's defection while on tour with Bolshoi in Toronto that brought America some of the finest classically trained dancers. These dancers desired to get away from Soviet instability and control. (Note: Natalia Makarova was the only defector allowed to return "home" to Russia to dance again). America's freedom and stability served as an incentive for dancers to dance for American audiences, who - by this time - were hungry for beautiful ballets, about 30 years after its first arrival.

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Photo: Natalia Makarova & Mikhail Baryshnikov, source

Who Brought Ballet?

Anna Pavlova brought grace, and captured America's curiosity. Sergei Diaghilev brought stunning, over-the-top ballets. Lincoln Kirstein brought funds to develop an American school and company. George Balanchine brought "American Classicism." While there are hundreds more, these people set the foundation for ballet to be accepted, adored and taught in America.

What Did They Bring?

Classic ballets. They brought with them the stories, the choreography, the music, and how to put all of the pieces together. They also brought with them their classic training, exercises, and understanding of how to teach ballet to others.

Ballet in America Today

Today, ballet is thriving. There are hundreds of companies presenting the classic ballets, as well as neo-classical and contemporary works. Students every where are pulling on leotards and ballet tights to carry on the tradition. We here at Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins applaud you all! Keep ballet beautiful in America!

How are you keeping ballet going in America?

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