Ballet is a form of European theatrical dance, in which trained dancers perform precisely choreographed performances, often (but not always, e.g. improvisational dance) to describe a narrative and usually accompanied by music. A few pieces regarded as ballet include dialogue or singing, but most rely exclusively on dance, music,and mime.

Usually, the term "ballet" is restricted to works that follow the conventions of classical European ballet of the 19th and earlier centuries, whose stylistic conventions are rejected by later works termed "modern" or "contemporary" dance. However, the cross-pollination of ideas between the traditional ballet companies and dancers and contemporary works has blurred the distinction. Russian, Italian, and American dancers have left their mark by inventing their own style and interpretation of classical steps. The term classical ballet is often used when a strict separation with modern dance and "original" ballet is needed.

Ballet was primarily "invented" in France (resulting in most of its terminology being in French), but was based heavily upon the Italian court-dances of the late 14th century. It became very popular in the court of Louis XIV, whose performance as Apollo in one ballet earned him the moniker "the Sun King." He also established the Academie Royale de Danse a few years before his retirement, an organization of dancing-masters. At this time, ballet was performed in heavy ballroom attire, complete with wigs and masks. Because of Louis XVI, court dancing became popular, and necessary for maintaning or rising in social standards. Pointe dancing was not known until the middle of the 18th century, when the Italian dancer Marie Taglioni rose to the tips of her toes in La Sylphide, choreographed by her father Filippo. She was the first dancer to perform on her toes through the entire ballet. Before this, a ballet dancer could only balance on his/her toes for a few moments due to the lack of the pointe shoe we see today. Later, specific pointe shoes were developed to make longer sequences of dancing on the toes possible, and pointe dancing is now considered an inseparable part of ballet.While toe dancing is usually associated with girls, there are traditional male parts, like the two stepsisters in Cinderella, where the pointe shoes are required due to the choreography of the ballet.

Although dancers wearing tutus and pointe shoes with hair pulled tightly back in a bun are typically associated with ballet dancing, the footwear and costumes need not be a constant. Young dancers get their start by wearing soft ballet "slippers" before balancing themselves on their toes. Depending on the theme of the ballet, individuals may perform in anything from a form-fitting bodysuit to a long, ethereal gown with flowing hair. Since around 1970, when suggested by the theme, some ballets have been staged in which costumes have been disposed of for artistic reasons, the dancers instead performing naked.

Since its beginnings in France, ballet has been developed elsewhere throughout Europe, particularly in Russia, Italy, and Denmark. Currently, there are several methods of ballet instruction - for instance, the Russian Vaganova method, the method of The Royal Academy of Dancing, the Cecchetti method - which differ slightly in presentation and execution of the basic steps in ballet.

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(The masque and other forms of theatrical dance pre-date the ballet.)