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If present-day balletomanes are asked to name typical ballet garments, they can name tutus, ballet dancers tights, leotards and unitards. But ballet clothes now and a few centuries ago are not the same. Here is a short history of ballet clothes.
Ballet dancing appeared in Western Europe and mainly in Italy and France. The first known performance took place in Milan and soon ballet became the favourite pastime of royal families. In the beginning of its history ballet consisted from folk dancing, acrobatics, singing and playing music. At that time there were no clothes designed for dancers so they had to perform in regular garments which were not suitable for exercising some acrobatic elements. At the present moment such items as ballet dancers tights and leotards give dancers complete freedom of movements.
By the end of the 17th century ballet dancing had become a professional occupation. Ballet dancers were no longer viewed as royal court entertainers but as professional artists. Ballet gradually moved to theatres and soon the first ballet academy was founded - the Academie Royale de la Danse patronised by Louis XIV of France. At the same time the first opera theatre was opened in Paris. Ballet became more codified and incorporated new turns and pirouettes which made women expose legs when dancing. It was against existing moral principles so female dancers had to wear special drawers as ballet dancers tights were not invented yet.
Long dresses which covered legs of female dancers didn’t allow the audience to see their complicated footwork. Besides, it was very difficult to perform some ballet elements in multi-layered skirts. In the beginning of the 18th century the ballet dancer Marie Camargo decided to challenge the traditional look of ballerinas. She shortened her skirts to just above the ankle which both shocked the audience and brought her its acclaim. Other dancers followed Camargo’s style and soon ballerinas were already wearing light flowing ballet dresses.
Costumes for male dancers also underwent important changes: men switched from long to knee-length pants which later were replaced with ballet dancers tights. According to some sources, tights were invented by the costume maker Maillot who worked at the Paris Opera. New garments became very popular among ballet dancers because they no longer restricted their movements.
The present-day tutu dates back to the 19th century. In 1832 Marie Taglioni performed her famous role in the ballet La Sylphide in a new mid-calf length dress. It featured an airy white skirt and a bodice which didn’t cover her shoulders and arms. Now, Taglioni’s dress is called a romantic style tutu and is one of the main tutu types. A few decades later the French acrobat Jules Leotard invented a snugly fitted one-piece garment which was called after him. Leotards became ‘must haves’ for acrobats, gymnasts and ballet dancers who paired them with ballet dancers tights.
Wardrobes of present-day ballet dancers consist of leotards, unitards, leggings, shorts and dance tops. Female dancers also wear ballet skirts and tutus. Besides, ballet dancers wear ankle and full body warmups to keep muscles warm during training sessions. Ballet clothes have come a long way to look the way they are today.