Walkthrough The Evolution Of Ballet & Jazz Dance

by Danielle Hernandez on March 06, 2018

Jazz and Ballet Dancewear – Then and Now

"Why walk when you can dance?", said Ellen Van Dam, and one couldn't agree with her more.

From taking bold infant steps to sailing over a stage, dance and its myriad hues have come a long way and will go on until eternity.

Dance is a form of art; people have been expressing themselves for many decades. The music, cultural background, dance costumes, dance shoes, history of dance forms, have changed, shifted and evolved tremendously over the centuries.

There are so many different types of dances in the world, each one characterized and differentiated based on origin, music, style, and context. 

In this blog post, we bring to you two incredible dance styles, Ballet, and Jazz; the evolution of their form and of course the dancewear and shoes that complete the look.

Ballet as a Dance Form

The Dance Form of Ballet

The word ballet has its origins in French and means "to dance."

Created in 15th century Renaissance Italy, Ballet was developed as a form to interpret fencing in Italian courts and was later adapted as a dance form by the French during the time of Louis XIV.

This dance form eventually spread from Italy to other countries like France, Denmark, and Russia. Almost deemed as a mother of all dance techniques, many Western styles of dance today can be traced back to ballet.

Ballet is a highly technical performance dance form.

Having enjoyed incredible popularity and ability to influence, it has made a mark on several other dance forms. It is also known to be a very graceful dance, and Ballet dancers are the epitome of grace and beauty with their flexibility and body control.

Ballet dance performance can narrate a story, express a particular mood or can simply be performed to music.

Ballet's French terminology has lent itself to many dance techniques. Words such as plié and tendu are used in most dance classes and included in their warm-up routines.

Other dance forms like jazz and modern dance also borrow terms such as pirouettes or battements to describe turns or high kicks, although the particular techniques differ.

Ballet Dancewear and Shoes

Ballet as a dance form emphasizes form, extension, and lightness in the body. However, in the early centuries, ballet costumes did not reflect this.

Ballet dancewear in the period of Italian Renaissance reflected itself in luxuriously designed ballet costumes. Cotton and silk were mixed with flax woven into semitransparent gauze.

The costumes in the 16th and 17th centuries had voluminous silk skirts. With the adoption of satin and silk fabrics, real gold and precious stones were embroidered and were a depiction of court dress.

Ballet Dance wear in the 18 and 19 Centuries

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the skirts of the female performers had a hooped petticoat, the pannier, raising skirts a few inches off the ground. Ballerinas were elevated to positions of star dancers and in keeping with that; the ballet outfit was emphasized by tight-fitting corsets, bejeweled bodices, and opulent headdresses.

It was in the late 19th century when Marie Taglioni's white gauze layered white tutu transformed the ballet dancewear into silhouettes that became tighter and revealed the legs. The male dancers wore tights with short jackets and long-sleeved shirts.

However, the 20th century reformed again and Ballerina skirts changed gradually to become knee-length tutus. Ballerinas were freed from corsets, and revolutionary natural silhouette took its place, and to this day the form-fitting leotards and tights remain.

Ballet Dancewear Today

Today's ballet costumes are designed for the comfort of the dancer. With materials like spandex and lycra in tights and leotards and acceptance of muscle warming cover-up clothing during regular classes or routines, ballet dance has come a long way.

In recent times, the ballet tutus (ballet skirts with single or many layers of cloth) are worn during performances.

Ballet costumes are made using sleek and flowing materials like tulle, muslin, nylon, voile, tarlatan, and organdy. Male ballet dancers wear tights and long-sleeved shirts.

Modern Ballet Dancewear

The Exquisite Ballet Shoes

Ballet is considered gentle, fluid and all about poise and grace and the pointe work need to reflect this.

Ballet shoes were first conceived to enable dancers to dance en pointe (on the tops of their toes) for long periods of time. These delicate looking shoes helped the dancers appear weightless and sylph-like.

Ballet Shoes

Today's pointe shoes could be satin or canvas, in tie-up or slip-on styles. A ballet dancer's pink or black pointe shoes made out of cloth or leather are hard wearing while the satin shoes are usually saved for performances only, owing to their delicate structure.

History of Jazz

Jazz dance is rooted in African folk dances. The African people believed in using the whole body as a means of dance expression and made dance and music an integral part of their daily lives.

African slaves were brought to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries and the white society which was initially appalled by the abandon with which the black slaves danced, adapted the dance forms to include arm swings and body movements.

History of Jazz Dance wear

Gradually American Tap and Rhythm Tap evolved.  Dances such as the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Twist and Street Dancing too have their roots in traditional African dance.

How Jazz Evolved

Early forms of tap and jazz were showcased in minstrel shows, medicine shows, carnivals, circuses, and vaudeville, as well as socially among blacks. Jazz is performers using some energetic, quick moves like pencil turn, barrel turn, Pirouette and Triplet turn.

Satin clothes are recommended during dancing in this particular style. It also gives full scope for showcasing individual unique dancing style.

In 1925, the White society took these dance forms to the ballroom and in fact, The Charleston was conceived as the first of the social dances enjoyed by both blacks and whites.

The popularity of jazz dance has seen its highs and lows, almost disappearing during the late 1940's.  Jazz dance is once again being enjoyed thanks to the widespread use of jazz in film and music.

A Brief History of Jazz Dancewear

Jazz music soared in popularity in the 1920s across the Americas and brought with it the first notable change in fashion in 1921.The ‘drop-waist' dress was introduced, and accessories such as long strings of glass beads and pearls became all the rage.

The dresses further evolved to resembling ‘shifts', that were loose(to keep up with the dance form), had no waistlines and skirts that were knee length.

Jazz Dance wear - Old Days

The standard ensemble for an evening jazz dance gathering was described as sleeveless mesh dress embroidered with gold sequins, a low V-shaped neckline, a loosely fitted bodice and a flared short skirt.

Gold kid shoes, a matching handbag, and pearls completed the look.

The Present Day Jazz Dancewear

The present day's jazz dancewear has evolved to being form-fitting, as a dancer has to be able to move without restraint, which requires flexibility not only on her part but also in her clothing.

Since jazz dance form has movements that are structured showing off sharp, clean lines, the dress ensures that there is no restriction of the view of positions, stances, and fluidity.

Present Day Jazz Dancewear

Jazz dancers can wear tights and leotards, but most opt to wear jazz dance pants that are flared or boot-cut so ankle movement is not restricted. Other options include wearing dance shorts or capris and form-fitting top such as a t-shirt or tank top.

Modern Jazz Dance wear

Costumes worn by jazz flash dancers are brightly colored, featuring sequins and crystals because the dancer and her routine are intended to be flashy, fun and full of spunk. Ornate tops paired with black dance pants are a popular combination, as are sequined berets and or hats.

Jazz Shoes

Dance shoes are every bit important as the dance outfits and jazz, like the ballet shoes, are kept simple and light. Jazz shoes have a slight heel and are available in neutral and black colors. They allow the jazz dancer the flexibility needed without hindering movements.

Jazz Shoes

Off late, the lyrical shoes are also gaining popularity and are worn to both classes as well as performances. It gives the illusion of a dancer not wearing any shoes.

Apart from being used for jazz, a jazz shoe can be used for many styles of dance including lyrical, line dancing and pole dancing as well as practice shoes for Ballroom and Latin dance.

The split-sole jazz shoes all
ow for enhanced shoe flexibility, making it possible to flex the foot more easily. Most have rubber soles, which provide traction and also help to cushion the foot.

Some jazz shoes have thicker heels for better shock-absorption. Some have a suede patch under the ball of the foot to facilitate turning.

Dancewear Completes a Dancer

Whether worn for daily routines or fabulous stage presentations, dancewear with its costumes and shoes complete the art of these two dance forms.  The stage outfits are designed and developed to perfection.

Backstage, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes in to make sure every costume is as perfect as it can be. Costumes play a huge part in the thrill of being a dancer.

While costumes enhance the whole atmosphere of the performance, the dancers feel a sense of oneness with the roles they depict bringing confidence to their performance.

I would love to hear from you on what you thought was interesting in this blog. Feel free to share what has been your favorite ballet or jazz dancewear look!


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