With her weightless technique and uncanny ability to balance on her toes in darned, soft-toe ballet slippers, Marie Taglioni (1804–1884) was the first to make gravity-defying pointework popular among performers and audiences alike. However it was her artistry, particularly in her signature role in La Sylphide, that inspired a devoted following and forever changed the artform of ballet.

Taglioni was born in Stockholm and moved with her family to Vienna at a young age. Her father Filippo was a dancer and choreographer, while her mother Anna was the daughter of a noted singer and dramatic author, Christopher Karsten. Taglioni studied ballet in Vienna with her father, and in 1822 made her debut in one of his ballets, La Reception d’une Jeune Nymphe à la Cour de Terpsichore. Fanny Elssler, who would later become one of Marie Taglioni’s greatest rivals, danced in the corps de ballet for this performance.

Taglioni went on to dance in Munich and Stuttgart before making her debut with the Paris Opéra in 1827, in a variation in the opera Le Sicilien. Taglioni performed at the Paris Opéra for the next 10 years, with her father as her primary teacher and choreographer, while ballet continued to gain respect as a distinct artform, separate from opera. Onstage, Taglioni was known not only for her legendary grace in supernatural story ballets but also for her excellent character dancing. In addition to her wild success in the ballet world, she danced in two operas, Robert le Diable and Le Dieu et la Bayadère, becoming perhaps the first bayadère in ballet history.

Taglioni created the title role in La Sylphide in 1832, in a part choreographed specifically for her by her father. Eugene Lami created her costume, which is now considered to be the standard romantic tutu. The ballerina wore a form-fitting bodice baring her neck and shoulders, a bell-shaped skirt in a light, white material that ended mid-calf and pink tights. The style was later reproduced in ballets such as Giselle (1841), choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, and Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides (1909). The Romantic ballerina was meant to be an elusive, idealized creature: from her flowing white costume to the way in which she balanced delicately on her toes and fluttered across the stage, she was always just out of the hero’s reach.

Contributing to this image were Taglioni’s signature postures and port de bras, which have come to exemplify Romantic ballet. Many historians now believe that these movements and poses were originally created by her father to compensate for a deformity in her back, which could have been anything from a hunchback to a severe spinal curvature. Whatever the handicap, Taglioni became known for her ethereal style: curved arms overhead, framing her face, a forward body posture with the legs in fourth position on pointe and the shoulders slightly tilted in effacé, her forefinger under her chin. Glimpses of Taglioni dancing were captured in Alfred-Edouard Chalon’s romantic prints, which depict charming, coquettish poses and showcase the ballerina balancing on one unusually small foot.

The style of Taglioni and her contemporaries has been recreated in Keith Lester and Anton Dolin’s reconstruction of Perrot’s Pas de Quatre, based on one of Chalon’s lithographs and a historic performance by the four goddesses of Romantic ballet: Taglioni, Elssler, Fanny Cerrito and Lucille Grahn. Perrot originally created the divertissement to be presented before Queen Victoria in 1845.

Taglioni’s personal life during her performing years was turbulent: In London in 1834, she married Compte Gilbert de Voisins, with whom she later had a son; a separation followed a year later. Additionally, Elssler’s arrival at the Opéra in 1834 created a rivalry for Taglioni’s position, and perhaps contributed to both Filippo and his daughter accepting annual contracts at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1837. There they collaborated on a number of ballets that premiered in London at Her Majesty’s Theatre after their creation at the Maryinsky in Russia.

Taglioni gave her last performance in 1848, after a 26-year career in an age of accelerating European train travel that changed performers’ schedules forever. Her retirement was short-lived, however, due to mismanagement of her funds; she was forced to return to Paris in 1858. She became Inspectrice de la Danse at the Paris Opéra in 1859, and is credited with the inauguration of the institution’s examination system. In 1860, she choreographed Le Papillon for her protégé, Emma Livry, who died tragically when her costume caught fire after brushing against the stage’s gas lighting. After losing her fortune during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, Taglioni taught ballroom dancing in London. In 1880, she moved to Marseilles, where she lived with her son until her death in 1884.

Taglioni’s legacy touches every ballet student today, because the pointework that was a novelty in the early 19th century is now an integral part of ballet training and a definitive component of both classical and contemporary choreography. Her innovations increased the technical skill necessary to perform ballet, while her expressive performances ensured that pointework, once thought of as merely an acrobatic trick, would become a crucial storytelling element as well. Taglioni created a new standard of technique and artistry for ballet performers and audiences, and set the stage for today’s talented professionals. DT

San Francisco–based writer Renee Renouf has written on dance and cultural subjects for mainstream papers and specialized journals, including Pointe and Dance Teacher, since 1960.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.


Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox