Our point of interest in this writing is to briefly explore the history of two types of dances, folk dance and ballet, and determine the relationship between the two, if there are any.
First, what is folk dance?
The definition available for folk dance is a non-specific one. As regards definition of a dance, one’s expectation will be a definition that relates to the dance’s origin or the kind of steps that are often taken in the dance’s performance. However, for folk dance, the definition is broad and it is possible that the dance type or style that any group of people is accustomed to is regarded as folk dance without the people realizing it. The reason is simple, folk dance is one defined as a dance developed by a group of people, one that reflects the traditional life in the country or region of reference. All that is needed is for an experienced person to put a group of enthusiasts through in training.
On the other hand, ballet dance is not defined by such a broad definition as that of folk because it is indeed a specific type of dance. It is a very formal dance type that is often guided by strict rules of performance. Ballet’s history dates way back in history; believed to have originated from Europe around 15th and 17th century.
What does ballet and folk dances have in common?
It was pointed out earlier that folk dance is a relative term that can be used for any kind of dance that is culturally related to a people, with no regard to place, while ballet dance has a traceable root in Europe and one might begin to wonder if there could be any form of similarity between the two.
Sure there is, and it is a simple one; they are both classical dance types that have been influenced in various ways by civilization.
Ballet’s origin is associated with the Italian Renaissance courts, normally performed in large chambers in front of an audience seated on galleries; performance in later years in France and Russia took place in the presence of wider audience, in concert. These later adopters of ballet brought about variations like Russian ballet and French ballet, followed by contemporary and neoclassical ballet dance types in later years. The original geographical associations of ballet well qualify it to be regarded as folk dance by the people concerned. The general acceptance of ballet by French and Russian people is a reason to regard ballet as folk dance in France and Russia at that point in history.
A strong relationship that is very obvious in both dance types is the music under which they are performed; they are both performed under classical music tunes. Other forms of similarities in these two dance types are evident in the symmetrical lines and repetitions they have in common.
Attitudes to ballet and folk dances
The enthusiasm of Western people to traditional dances from history is a major contributor to the continued existence of dance types like ballet. Credit goes to the Florentine Heiress of 1519 to 1589, Catherine de Medici who is fondly remembered for her support for court dance spectaculi which was formally named ‘ballet’ in her time. Louis the Great’s immense contribution to the development of ballet and folk dances in the 15th century is also worth mentioning, recognizing his quest for the restoration of the art of dancing to its original perfection and improving on it. His achievement on this came through the setting-up the first group of music performer certifiers, the origin claimed by ballet companies till date. These ballet companies have made immense progress to date and have helped in shaping the transformations seen in ballet and folk dances over time.
The attitudes of Americans to ballet dance have been quite receptive when the consideration of a borrowed dance is put in perspective. A milestone achievement recorded in its promotion is the recognition given it by the Congress in passing an Act making the American Ballet Theater America’s National Ballet Company in 2006. This came as a credit to the success of the company in ballet promotion; its first full evening performance titled “Swan Lake” in 1967 continues as a point of reference.
Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of its Origins and Evolution. New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-94256-X
Chantrell, Glynnis. The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories. New York: Berkley Books. 2002
"Ballet". Core of Culture
Bedinghaus, Treva. Ballet Dance. About.com Dance.