Ballet is [not] the foundation of dance. 

“Ballet is the most important style to train in.”

“Ballet gives you the foundation to do all dance styles.” 

“Ballet is the foundation of dance.”

For the past month and a half I have been living in a country where ballet and ballet-based genre classes barely exist. I don’t see pointed feet. Teachers don’t communicate in French terminology. Not in recreational dance classes, not in rehearsals for the National Company, not in the Dance Department’s studies at the University of Ghana. Here taking a technique class means training in Traditional Ghanaian dance. Here claiming to be a dancer means you are skilled at both Adowa and Azonto. Here Traditional Ghanaian dances are the foundation of dance exploration and studies.   

Here an Afrocentric approach is enough. Is valid. Is complete. 

Yet in the States I can’t escape hearing, “Ballet is the most important style to train in. Ballet gives you the foundation to do all dance styles. Ballet is the foundation of dance.”

Our genres of dance reflect a specific group’s story. So what are we really saying when we reinforce this false hierarchy of genres? We’re saying that one story, one experience, one group is more valid than the rest. Do we, as a community of artists, really think it valid to perpetuate the divisions we see in our country in our art, a place we have the power to cross and break through the boundaries of racism, sexism, and classism?

Please understand that when you buy into the myth that ballet is the  foundation of dance, what you are truly saying is that a Eurocentric approach is more valid than other approaches. And the further you are from that approach, the more primitive the viewpoint. 

Isn’t that what we really mean when we say stuff like, “I’ve trained in hip hop for 2 years and am ready to audition” while knowing not to walk into a professional level ballet class after training for the same amount of time? Isn’t it what we’re saying when we say that ballet is the only solution to “having clean lines”, to having “proper” posture, to having “full” body awareness? Isn’t it what we’re saying when we use the term “trained dancer” as synonymous with training in ballet and antonymous with Afrocentric styles? 

Ballet is not the root of dance. People’s lives, experiences, beliefs, hardships and triumphs are. And for as long as we buy into the myth that one group of people’s story is more valid than the rest, we will never experience the art form of dance in all of its freedom, purity and glory.  

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85 thoughts on “Ballet is [not] the foundation of dance. 

  1. I’ve been doing ballet for 16 years but if you stuck me in a contemporary or hip hop class you’d think I’d never took one step in a studio. I do however agree that ballet does give you a more strengthened core than other dance, but to be good at any type of dance the key is to practice. It’s the same for all, just because you’ve spent your life doing ballet doesn’t mean you are going to be the same standard in other types. Great read, thanks for the thought provoking 🙂

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  2. I absolutely love ballet. I have tried so many different genres of dance, and I have to agree that ballet is not the foundation to all dance. I think it can actually prohibit you from certain styles. I started as a ballet dancer and I struggled with many styles because I was too.. eh, proper? I struggled to loosen up and let my body flow with the music. So where are you visiting?

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  3. wonderful post! Overhere in Germany it is not even allowed to consider any other dance concept other than the French classical ballet to be the base for all other styles. These other schools are of course respected and known, but they are considered additions to a French base. Thank you for this post, it is indeed interesting to apply it to other arts and standards. “Free your mind and the rest will follow. ;)”

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  4. Isn’t the idea of being able to master any dance, or anything for that matter to be a blank canvas? To study Ballet and purposely use it under the assumption that it helps with other dance is making yourself biased to ballet, therefore using basic ballet poses to build on another style. I’m no dancer but I love the art and I watch a lot of dance. Countless times I’ve watched dancers try to tackle what a lot of people say to be a simple form of dance – contemporary. Countless times I’ve watched as those classically trained ballet dancers forget to use flat feet for certain moves or are too stiff for other moves. I think Ballet seriously conditions the body for that specific type of dance so if anything it would seem harder to break into other genres of dance if one is too ingrained in ballet.

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  5. I don’t think putting down one view of dancing is ever the way to life another view up. I dance ballet. I have also danced tap,hula,Tahitian,and freestyle,etc. I am a dancer…and dancing should come from the heart. I personally think ballet is great training…and if you wanted it to be your foundation it could. Any type of dance could be your foundation as a dancer…but some are better for crossing over into other types. It’s more about the person dancing. You bring more to the dance then the style itself

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  6. I don’t necessarily think ballet is more “valid” than other dance styles, but it certainly helped me in other areas such as contemporary and lyrical. But stick me in a hip hop class, and I feel strange taking pretty much everything I had learned out the window. I definitely think ballet helps a ton in certain genres but not all of them. It just depends on your style and interests.

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  7. One of the most talented and powerful pole dancers I know has never taken a single ballet class. She comments constantly on how she can see my training when I dance and Ho she wishes she had that, but I think it’s foolish of her to wish anything for her art because she is a powerhouse all her own. Plus pole dancers are stigmatized as all being over sexualized and trashy, and yet I have seen a ballet where the performers were very nearly completely nude and it was hailed as high art. Thank you for sharing this.

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  8. I appreciate your take on things and I think that what you are saying is true. However, I was a ballerina growing up and my daughter now dances as well. I htink that Ballet does hold a foundation, but not neccesarily the foundation of all dance. I think my daughter and myself are stronger and more balanced and can perform better overall in a range of sports and activities because of the ballet training. Thanks for the post 🙂

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