Somewhere along the course of history, humankind decided men and women in tight pants, bending their bodies in ways that could make contortionists weep with jealousy, was elegant.
And to be frank, it is; it’s also enchanting and whimsical. But while the history of ballet itself is readily accessible, less is known about those involved in the heart of its production: the dancers. What exactly does a ballet dancer do on a daily basis? The answers are pretty simple.
Like most things magical, ballet (as a profession), began with a king.
Dubbed the Sun King following his role in Le Ballet de la Nuit (1953), Louis XIV’s eagerness towards ballet – then performed by amateurs – allowed it to develop into choreographed stories featuring elaborate musical scores and fantastical costumes. Pierre Beauchamp, Louis XIV’s personal ballet master, is often credited with codifying ballet as a system of movement, an integral feature of ballet that still exists today.
Now, in modern times, ballet is the height of grace and expressionism. Schools dedicated to cultivating this art exist all over the world, developing fierce and devoted dancers.
Ballet dancing is a full-time job and a long-term career. Like elite athletes, ballet dancers are required to train extensively all year round, with one short mid-year break and a longer one over the Summer. The Australian Ballet trains up to eighty dancers, from corps de ballet to coryphées to principal artists who all partake in rigorous routine to keep shape, polish technique and engage the right muscles. Everyone works six days a week in preparation for more than 200 shows.
The day, for most, begins at 8AM. The dancers are obligated to start their day with pilates and other forms of body conditioning exercising. Then, at 11AMrehearsals begin. These sessions are intense yet rewarding. Dancers prepare for shows under six different productions, so it is common to rehearse a new choreographed dance every day.
Rehearsals last until 3PM. After a short break, costume fitting begins backstage. Costumes are what brings decadence to the ballet; each piece creatively crafted with materials such as silk, faux fur, velvet and lace. The Australian Ballet reports it takes about two weeks to sew a single tutu for one dancer, emphasising the intricate process.
Following this, dancers meet up with the medical assist team for some light physical therapy. These fifteen-minute sessions usually consist of manipulating feet, calves, shoulders and back. Ballet’s physically straining nature makes these sessions an important necessity.
To prepare for their 7PM shows, dancers then head backstage. Ballet dancers actually do their own hair and makeup with their own cosmetics products. They are taught by makeup artists or shown pictures of the required vision, but the actual application process is done themselves.
As the curtains pull up, it’s time to finally have some fun. The average ballet performance lasts for about 3 hours, so it’s not uncommon for dancers to leave the studio by 11PM at night.
And then of course, repeat.
While exhausting and challenging, the life of a ballet dancer is undoubtedly colourful and not for the faint of heart. After all, according to principal artist Amber Scott, “You don’t choose ballet…ballet chooses you.”
Mansib is a Journalism & Communications student and a lover of history, culture and workplace comedies. Her hobbies include reading, writing, annoying her cat and preparing for a future where society is ruled by robots.