To some, ballet is a foreign language. People don’t usually think of dance as a means of communication, but it is one of the truest forms. It is the conveyance of emotion and energy between dancers and to the audience, transporting everyone to another time and place—to another world.
The literal language of ballet is French, and the basic steps of ballet, such as a plié and tendu, are French words meaning bend and stretch. Ballet terminology stays consistent across the globe. It is not only the vocabulary of ballet that is constant, but the unspoken routines of a ballet class, and the “rules” known to every dancer.
From a young age, dancers learn all ballet positions, the chronology of steps in class and even how to behave in a ballet class. The disciplines of a ballet class create uniformity and allows dancers, and even teachers, of all origins to participate in similar settings.
One of my ballet teachers is originally from Venezuela, and she had a friend and fellow teacher also from Venezuela visit our ballet studio. The visiting teacher only spoke Spanish and limited English. She came to teach our ballet class without a translator. Our class was a little worried about how we would communicate with her. We were unsure if we would get through the class smoothly without knowing what she was saying. However, once class started, we quickly realized we did not need to know any Spanish, and she did not need to speak any English. The routine of a ballet class is so well-known, and the progression of the steps is so familiar to dancers, that we almost did not need to speak at all. The teacher demonstrated the movements in a form of elegant sign language, and we all knew exactly what to do. We knew what she meant when she motioned for us to correct our turnout or arm placement, and when she showed us the combinations, we followed along and performed them without confusion.
It is truly amazing how ballet has remained constant for so long, with only slight variations through the ages. As a dancer, learning the language of ballet, and being a small part of a huge network of artists and movers is an incredible feeling, one I will always have. To me, the beauty of ballet is its ability to connect people from all over the world, dancers, teachers and audience members, all devoted to the art form. Ballet offers a unique opportunity for people to communicate solely through movement, share emotions and ultimately, converse without even saying a word.
– By Leah Kallam