Ballet cultural values and ideas

by Silva
(United States)

Hey there, I wanted to know what cultural values or ideas is ballet embodying?

And the social/political reasons why it is the way it is, why it may have changed over time.

Thank you,



Dear Silva,

It is important that we consider that ballet is an art that has existed for several centuries by now. As all human activities, it has evolved over time, so the values that ballet embodies nowadays may be different from the values of other times (you could read our page about ballet history to expand).

Furthermore, today we know that ballet companies and their aesthetic projects vary a lot from one place to another, from one choreographer to another, from one institution to another.

Therefore, it would not be accurate to state generalizations about ballet. However, I'll try to give you some examples that help you understand the subject. You may want to analyze a particular ballet piece, dancer, choreographer or company, later, on your own.

One of the most stereotyped values of ballet is the one of its body. Have you ever seen a company of fat or non-flexible ballet dancers? In general terms, ballet praises a body which is thin, extremely flexible, strong, agile, delicate and with extreme harmonic proportions. By this, ballet is also sustaining and eulogizing the process needed to obtain that type of body, which implies huge sacrifices, enormous discipline, submission and reduction of the rest of the dancer’s life activities, among many other things.

Another common value found in ballet is the pyramidal form of its social organization. In aesthetical terms, this is readable in the choreographic format of the group with a soloist. The exaltation of soloists ('prima ballerinas' or 'étoiles'...), which are 'better' than the rest of the group, sustains a type of social organization in which people are not seen as equal and some of
them have privileges.

The division of gender and its related roles is another common value found in ballet. You may have seen that usually, there are specific steps just for female dancers or for male dancers. The dancer’s tasks within the ballet are defined according to her/his sex. Contemporary ballet companies have broken this value a lot, like for example when you see male dancers on pointes or when you see female dancers carrying the males. Still, it is a practice that remains in all pieces of the classical repertoire and so.

You know, this is a huge subject. I think I could write a whole book on the topic... but I have other working engagements... ; - ). However, with those examples, I believe you can try to find more values by analyzing a specific ballet project.

Also, it is important that you know that I'm not stating my personal positioning in the answer above (though I have one, of course). Those remarks are just that: remarks. Interpreting them as good, bad, appropriate or inappropriate is something that depends on contexts and which is subject to many subtle thoughts.

Concerning your other question about the social/political reasons why ballet is the way it is, or why it may have changed over time, I must say that that one is another huge question.

Please read my whole answer in the following related thread to understand what I mean:

The role of society in the evolution of dance

Warm regards,


PD: I actually appreciate some things about ballet a lot, especially its technique, which I find powerful and healing (if executed properly). I believe that the key is to be aware of the values associated to the practice (any practice), and then each one is free to behave according to each one’s judgment.

If you love ballet, leave us a comment below, and let us know about its positive values. There are many...

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