Ballet has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years and spans various continents and countries. As a result, the has undergone many modifications as dancers and teachers incorporated new styles of ballet and techniques into their practice.
Years of experimentation and artistic inspiration have established various ballet styles that each have special characteristics and trademarks. Here’s an overview of the major styles of ballet.
Classical ballet is the most well-known and popular style of ballet. Its origins go back to the Renaissance courts of Louis XIV, explained Les Grand Ballets, and still adheres to traditional ballet technique. Classical ballet emphasizes elegant, graceful lines, heavy turnout of the legs and fluid, smooth movements. Perhaps the most famous of all classical ballets is “Swan Lake.”
The Romantic ballet style prioritizes emotion, drama and strong story-telling. Romantic ballet is not just about the technical or athletic feats of movement that dancers can achieve, but how movement can be used to tell a compelling narrative and connect with the emotions of the audience. According to California Ballet:
“The basic subjects of the Romantic ballets came from the perceived conflicts between beauty and ugliness, good and evil, spirit and flesh realism and fantasy.”
Dance Magazine describes the contemporary ballet style as “anchored in the old, hungry for the new.” It’s all about experimentation and creativity, drawing freely from other dance styles like jazz and modern. The focus is not on narrative or telling a story, but on prompting the audience to think about the power of movement and what aesthetic the lines of the body can convey. As choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa told the magazine:
“With contemporary ballet, you turn the room. The audience is asked to look at what is happening between the dancers.”
Neoclassical ballet is synonymous with the work of George Balanchine, an incredibly influential choreographer who created the Balanchine method, which is the most widely taught ballet method in the U.S. It is a 20th-century creation, Pittsburgh Dance Theatre explained, and emphasizes athleticism, speed and impressive technical feats. This style largely rejects elaborate costumes, sets or intricate stories to for a simpler design that places the focus on the dancers themselves. Neoclassical ballet pushes boundaries while still prioritizing technical skill and perfection.