From Italy to France
Around the turn of the 15th century Italy was not yet a country. It was comprised of states that were in constant competition with each other. Dance was a part of this competition. Each state had a prince who wanted to increase their standings. So they constantly created lavish court dances. Dance masters were needed to create these spectacles. This was the beginning of ballet masters and choreographers.
Ballet as it is known today is said to be traced back to the Italian renaissance in the 15th century. This is because Domenico di Piacenza used the word ballo to describe his works at that time period. Ballo which means dancing in varied rhythm in Italian. He also wrote On the art of Dancing and conducting dances in 1460. It then was turned into balletto which were performed dances for the court. Dancing was included at large events included along with poetry, painting, songs and large feasts.
The focus of the ballet was more about spectacle than dance at that time. The dancers wore elaborate costumes that consisted of wigs, blouses, jackets, and bloomers for the men and many layered gowns for the women. With all of the clothing it was very difficult to dance. This is why women did not dance as much as the men at this early time. The costuming was much too heavy!
When Catherine de Medici of Italy married the soon to be King Henry II in the mid 1500s she brought her love of the balletto with her to France. She made dance more important in the traditional French entertainments. She hired the dance master, Baldassarino da Belgioso or Balthasar de Beuajoyeulx as he became known in France. In 1581 he created the a spectacle that historians refer to as the first ballet called, Ballet Comique de la Reine, It is credited as being the first ballet because of how it combined music, dance, verse and scenery.
France continued to take the lead in ballet at this time with Italy and England not far behind. However it wasn’t until the mid 1600s that ballet took another leap forward with the influence of King Louis the XIV.