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What to Wear to the Ballet (And Other FAQs)

BY: Editors | Dec 20, 2017

A night at the ballet can be an elegant and exciting affair, but if it's your first time, things can be a little intimidating. Though the tradition has persisted since the Renaissance courts of the 15th century, all of the customs have not. We're here to answer all your questions about attending your first ballet, from what to wear to how to act and just about everything in between.

What to Wear to the Ballet

Everyone's first question is "What is ballet attire?" Old films depict men donned in white ties and tails and women cascading down a staircase in glamorous floor-length gowns. Olga Aru, a soloist and audition director with the Moscow Ballet, says that these days, all of that pomp is unnecessary. In her opinion, "If you have [an evening gown], you definitely should wear it"—but because it's fun not because it's required.

A good rule of thumb: Dress in whatever makes you most comfortable for a night out.

How to Prep

Before you go, try to familiarize yourself with the classics. Aru, who debuted at the National Academy of Dance in Kiev and has since performed in cities around the world, says "it's easier to appreciate "some of the [more] modern dancing" when you understand classical ballet more. Here are some of the greatest ballets to brush up on:

  • The Nutcracker (a holiday season favorite)

  • Swan Lake

  • Don Quixote

  • Giselle

  • Cinderella (one of the best ballet shows for kids!)

  • La Bayadère

  • The Sleeping Beauty

  • Romeo and Juliet (a classic for literature lovers)

How to Act: Clapping, Standing Os, Flowers & More

Even though ballet has been modernized, the bulk of the traditions have remained. Here are some things to keep in mind.

    • Clap when it feels right. You don't have to wait until the end of a performance to show your enthusiasm. If a ballet dancer does something that elicits an emotional response, don't hold back. Clap away!
    • Leave the snacks at home (or at least in the lobby). No one wants to hear the sounds of you munching on popcorn throughout the show. Try to eat beforehand because snacks are frowned upon in the theater. Drinks are okay, even encouraged.
    • Don't talk through the performance. This is pretty much a no-brainer for all live events. Noise is distracting for everyone, and you're there to watch the show, after all.
    • Turn off your phone. Another etiquette tip for basically any event. Be sure to silence any noise-making device you have.
    • You don't have to bring flowers...but you can. The tradition of throwing flowers on stage isn't as common as it once was, but gifting flowers for the performers is always welcomed. Tip: Roses are the go-to bloom to show appreciation.
    • If you love the show, give a Standing O. Show your excitement and enjoyment at the end of the performance with a standing ovation.
    • Wait until the lights come on to exit. Don't try and beat the crowd. It's customary to stay until the very end.

Where to Watch Ballet

Most major cities have professional ballet companies and local theaters are always putting on performances (especially around the holidays). It's a great date night idea for a fun and sophisticated evening out.

Here are some of the top cities to see a ballet performance:

This article was originally published in a slightly different format and has since been modified by our editors.