For those who weren’t raised in the ballet community, watching a ballet can seem foreign—and maybe even boring. Ballet is a nuanced art that can make it more difficult to appreciate for some casual observers. However, with the right approach and mindset, anyone can learn to appreciate ballet.
7 Steps to Appreciate Ballet
Ballet is such a beautiful, technical, and expressive form of art. If you have the right tools to appreciate ballet, it can change your life! But how can you learn to appreciate ballet if you’re not sure where to start? Below are 7 tips.
Step 1: Know What Makes Ballet Beautiful—and Difficult
One of the best ways to learn to appreciate ballet is to understand what makes it both beautiful and difficult. Ballet takes a great deal of skill, strength, and perfectionism. A great dancer will look like they defy gravity and that their limbs are endlessly long. These illusions do not come easily.
- Weightlessness: The weightlessness in ballet comes from striking in-air positions faster and holding them longer. This makes the dancer seem to be floating
- Lengthening: Appreciating what it takes to meticulously have long, lengthened lines can take just a simple experiment. If you stand and extend your leg to the side, how does it look? Are your toes pointed? How straight? Does your leg look lean and long, and how effortless is it for you to hold your leg in that position? What about your supporting leg? Is that leg lean, long, and pointed as well? What about your torso…and arms? It takes a lot of awareness–and strength!–to maintain those lines through an entire ballet.
- Appreciate the Turn: Turns are no small matter in ballet, and there’s more to them than you think. During a turn, watch the supporting leg. The best turns are done without moving from one spot and while maintaining balance throughout the entire motion.
- Focus: It isn’t just the movements that matter in ballet. Remember when we said ballet is nuanced? Don’t forget to watch where the dancers are looking. Their line of focus acts almost as an extra limb, providing an extension of their performance.
Step 2: Pick a Ballet to Watch
After you have a basic understanding of what makes ballet beautiful, choose a ballet to watch! You don’t have to fork over the cash for a live ticket–yet–if you aren’t ready. Instead, you can find recordings of famous ballets at the library, on eBay, or even on YouTube. A good place to start is to look for 19th-century classics including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, or Giselle.
Step 3: Get to Know the Story & the Score
Before you watch the ballet, look up information about the story. Much like how opera can be difficult to follow if you can’t understand the lyrics and don’t know the storyline, ballet can leave some people lost if they aren’t sure how to interpret the movements and the story. Taking some time to understand the story ahead of time can help you understand which parts of the story the dancers are telling and to understand what the music is expressing at any given time.
Step 4: Read Critics’ Reviews Ahead of Time
Whether you’re watching a live performance or a recording, you’re certain to be able to find critical reviews of the piece online. While some of these reviews may be a little stuffy, some may give you a great perspective of what to look for to appreciate during the ballet.
Step 5: Read up on the Dancers
Sure, you might not yet be engrossed in the ballet world, but wouldn’t you like to know if you’re seeing a world-renowned dancer on stage? Take a moment to read up on the dancers and their backgrounds. Knowing a little bit about the key soloists can give you an additional connection to them as you watch them perform.
Step 6: Get Good Seats
It’s go time! After you’ve done your preparation, you’re ready to watch ballet with a more appreciative eye. Don’t forget to get the right seats for the show (it would be a shame to do all this preparation and not be able to see the dancers). Look for center orchestra or first balcony–this is where the critics usually sit.
Step 7: Appreciate Each Movement
As you watch the ballet, remember that each movement means something. Nothing is done by accident. Walking in a circle could mean the beginning of a journey or trying to find something–or oneself? Take what you know about the story and try to find clues in the dance movements that help to point to that story and to tell it.
Take it a Step Further
After you’ve found a ballet you like, try watching a few different versions. Compare and contrast the staging and the soloists. Do you notice anything different about the dancers? What do you like better in each version? This exercise can help you become more in tune with the nuances of ballet.