Classical Ballet is the most formal of the ballet styles, it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as Russian ballet, French ballet and Italian ballet. The two methods Vaganova method after Agrippina Vaganova and the Cecchetti method after Enrico Cecchetti are Russian and Italian respectively and derive from the original French method.
Classical ballet is best known for its unique features and techniques, such as pointe work, turn-out of the legs, and high extensions; its graceful, flowing, precise movements; and its ethereal qualities.
Reforms were made in ballet composition by composers such as Christoph Gluck. Finally, ballet was divided into three formal techniques sérieux, demi-caractère and comique. Ballet also began to be featured in operas as interludes called divertissements.
The 19th century was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet by a shift away from the aristocratic sensibilities that had dominated earlier periods through romantic ballet. Ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler pioneered new techniques such as pointework that rocketed the ballerina into prominence as the ideal stage figure, professional librettists began crafting the stories in ballets, and teachers like Carlo Blasis codified ballet technique in the basic form that is still used today. The ballet slipper was invented to support pointe work.
Romanticism was a reaction against formal constraints and also of industrialization with the introduction of complex machinery and factories. The zeitgeist led choreographers to compose romantic ballets that were light, airy and fae that would act as a contrast to the reductionist science that had, in the words of Poe, "driven the hamadryad from the woods". These "unreal" ballets portrayed women as fragile unearthly beings, delicate creatures who could be lifted effortlessly. Ballerinas began to wear romantic tutus, with pastel, flowing skirts that bared the shins. The stories revolved around uncanny, folkloric spirits. An example of one such romantic ballet is "La Sylphide",one of the oldest romantic ballets still danced today.
Ballet, especially classical ballet, puts great emphasis on the method and execution of movement. A distinctive feature of ballet is the outward rotation of the thighs from the hip. The foundation of the dance consists of five basic positions, all performed with the turnout. Young dancers receive a rigorous education in their school's method of dance, which begins when they are young and ends with graduation from high school. Students are required to learn the names, meanings, and precise technique of each movement they learn. Emphasis is put on building strength mostly in the lower body, particularly the legs, and the core (also called the center or the abdominals) as a strong core is necessary for many movements in ballet, especially turns, and on developing flexibility and strong feet for dancing en pointe.
For women, the typical ballet class attire includes pink, black, or flesh colored tights and a leotard (which can come in various colors and styles), with an optional short wrap-skirt. For men, the typical class attire includes tights along with a form-fitting shirt. Dancers wear soft technique shoes, often called flats during their classes. The female dancers usually wear pink or beige flats while the men wear black or white flats. Often, leg warmers (knitted tubes that vary in length from just long enough to cover the ankle to long enough to cover the entire leg) are worn during the early part of a class to protect the dancer's muscles until they become warm. During ballet class, it is usually required that women restrain their hair in a bun or other style which keeps the hair flat against the head and off the neck. The purpose of the customary dance class attire and hair style requirements is to allow the dancer freedom of movement and allow teachers to evaluate the alignment and technique of the dancer.
Once the foundation of basic technique has been laid, women begin to wear pointe shoes while men continue to wear soft shoes and learn more advanced jumps and turns. The age at which dancers start pointe work varies from student to student. Strength is paramount in being able to wear pointe shoes for extended periods of time. Premature wearing of pointe shoes or insufficient training can result in serious injuries and/or disabilities in later life.
The most notable ballet methods are named after their originator. For example, two prevailing systems from Russia are known as the Vaganova method after Agrippina Vaganova, and the Legat Method, after Nikolai Legat. The well-known Cecchetti method is based on technique developed and taught by the Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928). Another European system, based on the teaching methods of the Frenchman Auguste Vestris, was that developed in Copenhagen by August Bournonville (1805–1879). The system is taught chiefly as a tradition in Bournonville's own country of Denmark
A distinctive feature of ballet is the outward rotation of the thighs from the hip. The foundation of the dance consists of five basic positions, all performed with the turnout. Young dancers receive a rigorous education in their school's method of dance, which begins when they are young and ends with graduation from high school. Students are required to learn the names, meanings, and precise technique of each movement they learn. Emphasis is put on building strength mostly in the lower body, particularly the legs, and the core (also called the center or the abdominals) as a strong core is necessary for many movements in ballet, especially turns, and on developing flexibility and strong feet for dancing en pointe.
For example, during the grand jeté, the dancer may appear to hover. Physically, his/her center of mass describes a parabola, as does any projectile. Observors have limited ability to reckon center of mass when a projectile changes its configuration in flight. To do this the dancer extends their arms and legs, which camouflages the fall and leads the audience to perceive the dancer is floating.
A Pas de Chat (step of the cat) creates a similar illusion. The dancer starts from a plié, then during the ascending phase of the step, quickly lifts each knee in succession with hips turned out, so that for a moment both feet are in the air at the same time, passing each other. For a moment, the dancer appears suspended in air.
The landing must be performed carefully, the dancer bends at the knees (plies) and rolls the foot from toe to heel. For artistic as well as safety reasons this technique must be taught by a qualified instructor.