Tights (in one form or other) are worn across a range of dance styles from jazz to contemporary as well as classical ballet. Yet in our warm Australian climate, particularly during our hot and often humid summer months, the question arises – are tights really necessary and what practical purpose do they serve?

In classical ballet the wearing of tights has origins dating back to the 18th century. The invention of tights is commonly attributed to a costume designer named Maillot who worked for the Paris Opera Ballet. His invention, though scandalous at the time, liberated dancers’ bodies from their traditional heavy and cumbersome costuming. The resulting freedom of movement helped to pave the way for the development and evolution of dance technique, with a growing focus on the intricacies of foot movement and batterie and the increasing athleticism of dancers.

In 1826, tights were praised by August Bournonville, the great Danish choreographer, as a practical and necessary improvement to dancewear for males, noting that the long loose trousers previously worn – hid too many technical faults and anatomical errors.

For women, it is believed the first to wear tights was Marie-Anne de Cupis de Carmargo in the mid 1700s. Scandalously, Carmargo was the first woman to remove the heels from her dance shoes and to raise her skirts from ankle to calf-length. She wore tights to preserve her modesty.

Another factor in the origins of tights is that ballet originated in Europe, where the winters are cold and warm clothes were necessary. Which leads to our question: in Australia, is the wearing of tights practical or just a holdover from a distant cold climate history?

In fact, there is a wide range of practical and sensible reasons to pull on your tights – even in Australia – even in summer.

In classical ballet, it is the norm in classical ballet for females to wear pale pink tights and males to wear light or dark coloured tights in a solid colour. There are some aesthetic reasons for this. For performances the corps de ballet need to be uniform in appearance and for the form and musculature of the dancer to be observed from the audience. Light tights also help the dancer’s form to be visible against coloured sets and the stage floor itself, which is usually black in colour. Under stage lighting, light coloured tights also help to define the dancers’ legs and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the movement.

So if they are necessary for the stage – why are they necessary for class? There are a number of reasons:

  • Tights provide light compression of the muscles in the leg and foot which improves circulation and helps dancers to “feel” their legs and engage the correct muscles
  • They provide unrestricted movement while providing good coverage for the sake of discretion and modesty.
  • Modern tights not only keep leg muscles warm, but they also help to absorb perspiration from the legs and feet with moisture wicking technology – an important consideration in our climate, particularly for pas de deux and partnering classes.
  • They help to create a neat and professional appearance – yes even in class! Dress standards are an important part of the physical and mental preparation for ballet class – they help to put you in right frame of mind.
  • Though tights come in a range of different finishes and styles, they generally have a silky smooth finish, allowing the legs to glide smoothly past each other and reducing rubbing and friction.

This is an extract from an article by Michelle Dursun in the April/May issue of Dance Australia. OUT NOW!

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