Five Things I Didn’t Know About Ballet

On Monday, as part of the Joburg City Festival, I attended a rehearsal at the South African Mzansi Ballet in Braamfontein.

I know nothing about ballet — in fact I’ve never attended a ballet performance before. I was excited to get a behind-the-scenes look and learn a few things.

The ballet studio is a beautiful, airy space with great light. Taking photos there was a joyful experience. I was sad when the one-hour rehearsal came to an end.

Barre training

Ballet warm-up.

Ballerina instagram

So pretty. Everything about ballet is pretty.

So, here is what I learned about ballet:

1) Ballet dancers still wear leg warmers. And leg warmers are still cool.

For those of you who are too young to know what I’m talking about, leg warmers were a fashion trend in the 1980s. Ballet dancers are still wearing them, and they look so cool.

Ballerina toes

Pink leg warmers.

Striped legwarmers

Striped leg warmers — my favorites.

In fact, ballet dancers can make any article of clothing look cool. They would look cool in burlap sacks.

2) “Pointe” ballet shoes are not pointy.

Toe shoes

I never knew that pointe shoes were flat at the toes. Although of course it makes perfect sense. How else would ballet dancers be able to balance on their toes? Man, these shoes look painful though. The dancers are constantly pausing between exercises to take off their shoes, adjust them, apply bandaging, re-wrap ankles, etc. Brutal.

One foot

A dancer demonstrates the need for pointe shoes.

3) Not every ballet dancer is a ballerina.

Dancing silhouettes

This woman is definitely a ballet dancer. But she may or may not be a ballerina.

While watching the rehearsal, I became curious about the hierarchy of the dancers. Some dancers clearly have a higher status than others. I did some research when I got home.

According to Wikipedia: “In Italian, a ballerina is a title used to describe a woman who is a professional ballet dancer, usually holding a principal title within a ballet company.”

Ballerina

I think this dancer is a ballerina. She carried herself very regally and seemed to be following a different routine from everyone else.

4) A guy ballerina is a ballerino.

Boy ballerina

This is not a ballerina.

While watching the rehearsal, I also became curious about what male ballet dancers are called. Although male ballet dancers are definitely not called ballerinas, there seems to be a lack of consensus on what they are called.

I googled “What is a male ballerina called?” and discovered a hilarious video on the subject from ehow.com.

A website called chacha.com provides the following answer: “[A male ballerina is called] a ‘premier danseur’, although a ballerino is grammatically if not balletically correct for a male ballerina.”

But Wikipedia says outright that the male equivalent of a ballerina is a ballerino. I think ballerino is a bad-ass word so I’m sticking with that.

Speaking of which…

5) Ballerinos are hot.

I don’t think this item requires any elaboration.

I’m going to include an inappropriate photo now. Consider yourselves warned.

Ballerino

I don’t mean to objectify ballerinos. I’m just sayin’. This is one of the things I learned.

The South African Mzansi Ballet is hosting two more Joburg City Festival events at the studio, at 7:00 p.m. both tonight and tomorrow night. Email edgar@samzansiballet.com or call (011) 877 6893 for details.

Also, the ballet company is gearing up for a big performance of Cinderella, which runs from 13-29 September. Visit the Joburg Theatre website to book tickets.

Browse all of my Joburg City Festival posts.

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29 Comments

  • Reply roetsuprooted August 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

    That studio is amazing. I have attended a few ballet classes they offer to grown-ups like me (I sucked a lot by the way). Being there makes you feel like a dancer, even if you aren’t. Love, love, love the photos you took! So sad we were too late to attend it on Sunday 🙁

    • Reply 2summers August 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks Mia. I admire you for having the courage to go and dance there. I would be too intimidated.

  • Reply Wenchy August 28, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I absolutely adore your blog!

  • Reply Laura Vercueil August 28, 2013 at 11:14 am

    🙂

  • Reply eremophila August 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    A great short intro to ballet! And you held off from showing all the blood seeping out from the toes too! I think classical ballet must be the hardest of all activities on the human body – but golly, the joy they give to those watching is extra-ordinary! So, ballet today – when’s the opera? 🙂

    • Reply 2summers August 29, 2013 at 7:54 am

      I actually don’t think there is an opera company in Joburg. We do have a great philharmonic orchestra though. I’ve been meaning to write about them for a while — hopefully soon.

      • Reply 2summers August 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

        I have to confess: I started to get edgy because he was cruising all around the lounge and I never knew where he was going to pop up. So I asked Lucky to take him outside. I assume he is living happily in the garden now 🙂

  • Reply africakokoba August 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you

    Sent from my iPod

  • Reply amelie88 August 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    As a former ballet dancer (and I was really bad by the way and I’m not exaggerating either), I really enjoyed this post! Ballet is all about self-discipline and precision. I did take pointe classes (though I was really bad) and I never thought about how the shoes are not really pointy. However, when the dancer is up on pointe, her toes are pointing straight down so that is why they are called pointe shoes. Ballet dancers also never stopped wearing leg warmers, I’m pretty sure the fashion world got the leg warmer idea from the dancing world. If you enjoyed the rehearsal, I suggest you check out the movie Centerstage if you haven’t already. Very fun ballet movie (with a great soundtrack! It’s the movie that introduced me to the incredible band Jamiroquai).

    • Reply 2summers August 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Yes, I’m sure that ballet dancers invented leg warmers. They are indeed a brilliant idea. Thy need to come back into fashion 🙂

  • Reply amelie88 August 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    As a former ballet dancer (and I was really bad by the way and I’m not exaggerating either), I really enjoyed this post! Ballet is all about self-discipline and precision. I did take pointe classes (though I was really bad) and I never thought about how the shoes are not really pointy. However, when the dancer is up on pointe, her toes are pointing straight down so that is why they are called pointe shoes. Ballet dancers also never stopped wearing leg warmers, I’m pretty sure the fashion world got the leg warmer idea from the dancing world. If you enjoyed the rehearsal, I suggest you check out the movie Centerstage if you haven’t already. Very fun ballet movie (with a great soundtrack! It’s the movie that introduced me to the incredible band Jamiroquai).

    • Reply 2summers August 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Yes, I’m sure that ballet dancers invented leg warmers. They are indeed a brilliant idea. Thy need to come back into fashion 🙂

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish September 1, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Back in the eighties, my mother took tap dance lessons. When she complained about her shins hurting, I asked if she had been wearing leg warmers. She said, “Oh, I thought those were just some sort of fashion statement.”

    No, Mom, they have a purpose.

    When my kids’ Dad made disparaging remarks about Barishnikov and his ilk being sissies, I made him watch “The Nutcracker”. I said, “Watch when he makes a leap. No, watch when he lands twenty feet away. There’s not the slightest wobble or stutter. That takes more athletic muscular control than any football player has!” I give him complete credit — he shut up and considered it, and never disparaged “ballerinos” again. I’m so glad you gave me that word! “Male ballet dancer” just didn’t cut it.

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish September 1, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Back in the eighties, my mother took tap dance lessons. When she complained about her shins hurting, I asked if she had been wearing leg warmers. She said, “Oh, I thought those were just some sort of fashion statement.”

    No, Mom, they have a purpose.

    When my kids’ Dad made disparaging remarks about Barishnikov and his ilk being sissies, I made him watch “The Nutcracker”. I said, “Watch when he makes a leap. No, watch when he lands twenty feet away. There’s not the slightest wobble or stutter. That takes more athletic muscular control than any football player has!” I give him complete credit — he shut up and considered it, and never disparaged “ballerinos” again. I’m so glad you gave me that word! “Male ballet dancer” just didn’t cut it.

  • Reply tenneymason September 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Nice post. i laughed all the way through.

  • Reply tenneymason September 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Nice post. i laughed all the way through.

  • Reply VanishaRDailey September 4, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Ive trained in ballet for years.. I absolutely loved this post!

  • Reply VanishaRDailey September 4, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Ive trained in ballet for years.. I absolutely loved this post!

  • Reply Someone March 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Hey this doesn’t even help me at all I need something like where and when did ballet start, what clothes do ballet dancers wear and like stuff like that ok please I need it I am working on a project for school so please thank you. Goodbye! 😐

  • Reply Someone March 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Hey this doesn’t even help me at all I need something like where and when did ballet start, what clothes do ballet dancers wear and like stuff like that ok please I need it I am working on a project for school so please thank you. Goodbye! 😐

  • Reply Behind the Scenes at the Joburg Ballet – 2 Summers September 21, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    […] now and then, the Joburg Ballet hosts open rehearsal days at its studio in Braamfontein. I went once before in 2013, soon after the Joburg Ballet was started, and although I knew nothing about ballet I was […]

  • Reply Vusi October 24, 2017 at 5:16 am

    Have a ten year daughter she s so much in love wt ballet n so persistent I now can’t avoid her anymore

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