First things first—how do you say the word ‘ballet’? It’s not said like ‘bal-let’ Instead it’s said like ‘bal-lay’. It is a French word, because that’s where ballet began (about 300–400 years ago).

So that’s the difficult bit. The easy bit is to describe what ballet is. Ballet is a type of dance.

What’s a type of dance doing under the heading of music? Well, ballet is a type of dance performed on stage to classical music. This music is often written specially for ballet. Music written specially for ballet is normally called ballet as well. So ballet can also mean a type of music. It doesn’t really sound any different from other types of classical music. The only real difference is that ballet music has been written with ballet in mind.

So let’s say something about the type of dance called ballet. Ballet is very strict and formal. For this reason it is also very difficult to do properly and takes lots of practice. If ballet is done well it can be very beautiful to watch.

However there is more to ballet than just beauty. When most people think of ballet they think of women dancing round the stage like fairies wearing fairy-like dresses. This idea certainly puts a lot of boys off completely (including me when I was young).

But ballet is much more than that. Ballet tells a story. And like any story, there are nice bits and horrible bits. This means that ballet isn’t normally just beautiful and that’s it. There are often ugly bits as well. There could be monsters. There could be scary witches or wizards. And there could even be sword-fights!

Let me tell you about the time I first went to the ballet. My wife took me. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go and watch fairies! So my wife chose the ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953). This video shows a bit of this ballet (you can’t see the orchestra, but it will be underneath and in front of the stage):

Part of Prokoviev’s ballet, ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is very well-known and was written by the famous English playwright William Shakespeare. It is about a young couple who want to get married, but can’t because their families hate each other. There are no fairies in this story. I knew this before I went to see it, but somehow I still expected the ballet to be fairy-like.

What a surprise I got! The more I saw, the more I was swept up by what was happening on stage. It was so exciting. There was real emotion—love, anger, hate. And there really was a sword fight that I’ll never forget. When the ballet was over I couldn’t speak. I was in tears.

And guess what? I’ve never worried about seeing fairies in ballet again. In fact, I’ve even learnt to like the fairies when they do appear!

Many composers have written music specially for ballet. Three of the most well-known composers of ballet music are Russian. One of these is Prokofiev (the composer of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ above). The other two are:

Tchaikovsky’s ballets are especially well-known. His Nutcracker ballet is performed all over the UK at Christmas time (and yes, this one does have lots of fairies-like dancers—see the video on the Tchaikovsky page).

Ballet is fun. Ballet is exciting. And ballet is for both girls and boys!

By the way, there is much more music for ballet around than music written for ballet only. For example, many composers included music for ballet in their opera. And nowadays you can see ballet danced to just about any classical music at all. It all depends on how much imagination the dancers have! (See the ballet video on the Philip Glass page for an example of ballet danced to music that wasn’t written for ballet.)

Picture credits:
  1. Ballet dancing. This photograph is of ‘Grace and C’hristian’ performing Don Quixote. It was taken by Jeff from Denver, USA. The image is free to use providing one credits the photographer as I have done here. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. PROKOFIEV – Romeo & Juliet – Ballet. PROKOFIEV – Romeo & Juliet – Opera National Paris – Nureyev – Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris – Monique Loudieres – Manuel Legris.