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Outrageous Facts about 19th Century Ballet You Never Knew Were True

For the semester of Fall 2016, I’ve decided to pick up a dance class, foundations of dance. We kicked off the syllabus with ballet so as to study the basics of one of the most calculated genres of dance in the world. The history of dance is so rich in its social and political aspects that there have been textbooks of literature written about it. In my quest to become a self-proclaimed ballet dancer and full-time student, I’ve discovered some pretty gnarly, and illuminating, revelations about ballerinas and how they’ve evolved since starting in 19th century Paris. Some facts may surprise you, and maybe even compel you to think differently of the ballet, and that’s good; ballet dancers deserve a major shout-out for their efforts.


In the 19th Century…

  1. It was common for ballet-dancers-in-training to take one shower a month for 15 francs because they belonged to the lower class.
  2. Young dancers were often called “rats” because they were tempted by the food that creepy male drop-ins would give the hungry dancers. The men treated the girls poorly, and the company had no problem with it because they were making a profit from these visitors who would often times hand around their dressing rooms.
  3. The young women were asked to keep their bodies delicate, but not thin. If a dancer was too skinny, critics would sarcastically say that she didn’t have the ability to play a shadow (talk about reverse body negativity)!
  4. Louis the XIV was known for his role as a ballet dancer during the Baroque era since ballet was reserved for the aristocrats and nobility.
  5. The foot technique, first position, was once reserved for grotesque movements and amateur, poor dancers who represented less attractive characters until a French guy named Beauchamp defined the basic six positions of ballet.
  6. To perfect their feet, dancers would hinge their feet inside a box to keep them turned out and help sharpen their first position.
  7. There was a box in the theatre specialized for wealthy bachelor’s looking for a girl to pursue.
  8. Skirts and puffy dresses covered ankles until the male viewers wanted to see more of the dancer’s legs.


Nica is a Senior at Williams College majoring in Biology and taking pre-medical courses. She is a member of Ritmo Latino and GQ A cappella. Her passions include public health, reading, and yoga.
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