Ballet dancers Ballet is a classic form of dance that began about 400 years ago in Italy. It became popular in France in the 17th century, which is why so many ballet steps have French names. The dancers are trained athletes who move with skill and precision in a very graceful way. They perform specially composed movements, known as choreography, to tell a story or show feelings and moods, with a musical accompaniment.
There are five basic positions for the feet and the arms. Dancers are taught turn-out—turning the legs outwards, away from the hips—to make them look elegant and allow more movement of the legs. They practise their steps in a room with large mirrors, to check what they are doing, and a sprung floor that reduces the risk of injuries. They hold on to a railing called the barre while they warm up and do practice exercises. More advanced dancers learn jumps and turns. They are taught to dance en pointe, wearing special blocked shoes that allow them to dance on the very tips of their toes.
Ballet dancers traditionally wore masks for all of the parts. These were kept until the 1770s, when French dancemaster Jean Georges Noverre wanted his performers to show their emotions through their facial expressions.
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