Character Dance

Choreographer Marius Petipa created ballets during the late 19th century which incorporated many national folk dances, meant to provide excitement and opulence to his full-length productions. National dances, known as divertissements in ballet, include steps from many of the folk dances unique to a particular country, such as Hungary, Poland, Italy, and Spain. Ballet students learn the steps and style of these dances during their training in character class. 

For example, in the ball honoring Prince Siegfried in Act III of Swan Lake, dancers arrive in colorful, elaborate costumes representing foreign lands. Character dancers at the ball perform a czardas, a traditional Hungarian dance that typically starts slow and builds to a fast tempo, and a mazurka, a Polish folk dance executed to a triple meter. These dances are just a few styles that are taught in character class and they help students refine their shoulder placement (known as épaulement in ballet), arm and hand movements, and musical intricacies of these European dances.

SF Ballet in Tomasson's Swan Lake. (© Erik Tomasson)