Louis XIV and the Birth of Classical Ballet

As we promised last week, it’s time to continue with our brief history of ballet! When we last left off, Italy and England had lost interest in ballet, but France still had its sights set on the infant art form, thanks in no small part to Catherine de Medici.


So what happened next?

The mid-17th to early 18th centuries brought about the birth of Classical Ballet. King Louis XIV of France brought ballet de cour (court ballet) to it’s most brilliant pinnacle. The Sun King – as he was dubbed after his most memorable dance performance as Apollo –  was a talented and nimble dancer himself, and appeared in many court ballets over an eighteen year period!

sunking King Louis XIV as Apollo

In 1653, a pivotal moment in the development of ballet, King Louis XIV brought a man into his service by the name of Giovanni Baptista Lulli – later redubbed Jean Baptiste Lully for his work in France. Jean Baptiste served the king as the composer for his court ballets, helping to catapult the ballet de cour into an even brighter limelight. The King soon had his court composer working with the famed French poet and playwright, Moliere, to create the court ballets.

jean-baptiste-lullyJean Baptiste Lully

In 1661, the year of Louis XIV’s ascension to absolute power, the King showed the world his dedication to the art of dance by establishing the world’s first ballet school, the Academie Royal de Danse, in a room at the Louvre. Thirteen of the most experienced Dance Masters were appointed to set standards for teaching and training the dancers for the court ballets.

In 1669, the King established the Academie d’Opera, which would produce and perform French opera under the direction of a man named Pierre Perrin. Remember this, it’s important in the history of ballet.

In 1670, past his physical prime, King Louis XIV hung up his dance shoes, and handed control of the ballets over to Jean-Baptiste Lully. The King’s dedication to dance as an art form may have catapulted ballet de cour to new heights, but it also ultimately brought about its demise as the new Academie Royal de Danse as well as Lully’s vision for the ballets soon turned them from a court spectacle into a performing art executed by trained professionals.

In 1672 Perrin was imprisoned for debt, swindled by his composer, Robert Cambert. Here is where another incredibly important event took place. The king appointed Jean-Baptiste Lully to the position of director of the Academie d’Opera. Lully renamed it the Academie Royal de Musique, and established a dance academy within the Academie Royal de Musique.


In time it would come to be known as the Paris Opera.

The King’s school – the Academie Royal de Danse – continued to exist separately, but ultimate disappeared by 1780.


Here’s something you might not know, and might change some people’s ideas about men in ballet: until 1681, ballets were danced entirely by men! Women weren’t introduced to the opera-ballet stage (as operas and ballets were considered two sides of the same coin for many years) until the Paris Opera production of Le Triomphe de l’Amour. Featured in this production was Mademoiselle de Lafontaine – who is attributed as being the very first professional female ballet dancer.


Ballet continued to be developed and refined over the next few decades. Dance productions under the Academie Royal de Musique would be moved from the middle of a ballroom floor to a stage with a proscenium. Professional dancers would continue to refine their technique. Choreography would become more and more specialized.

In 1713, the Paris Opera established its own dance school, with technique based on the writings of Raoul Auger Feuillet, who penned the first treatise on dance technique a few years earlier. The Paris Opera’s ballet school is the oldest, continually run ballet school in existence today.


In 1715, Louis XIV died, ending what was perhaps the most pivotal era in the development of ballet. This king may be considered the most influential patron to have ever lived, without whose contributions this amazing art form might never have come to be.


Next in the history of Ballet: The Romantic Era


4 Responses to “Louis XIV and the Birth of Classical Ballet”

  1. shila Says:

    I love ballet!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Raven Says:


  3. Raven Says:

    Ballet rules

  4. jonnah Says:

    thanks to louis!!! he rock s and knock my socks off. but he also puts my ballet shoes on, because ballet is my passion i love it ❤ #team ballet

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