The king who invented ballet
And his shapely calves

King Louis XIV of France clocked almost as many hours on Ballet as a professional ballet dancer.

The Sun King’s Legs

He performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets.

A ballet myth goes that the step called the Royale was invented for Louis.

The Royale makes it look sort of like you’re doing the more difficult entrechat.

Louis couldn’t do the entrechat.

Monarchs such as English queens Anne of Denmark and Elizabeth I were known to perform in masques or plays.

Louis XIV seems to be the only monarch who did ballet.

Louis kept the nobles at Versailles firmly under his ballet slipper.

Noblemen and women were restricted as to where they could stand, how they were allowed to enter or exit a room, and what type of chair they could sit on.

They had to learn about two to four new ballroom dances a year, performing the social dances before dinner.

Wendy Hilton writes in Dance and Music of Court and Theater:

“At Louis’s court, a courtier probably had to keep some twelve dances at the ready, a considerable feat of memory in view of their diversity and complexity.”

There were reportedly more than two hundred dancing schools in Paris in the 1660s, all to avoid any breach of dance etiquette.

Louis kept his courtiers in check but not his appetite

Thanks to his enormous appetite, Louis XIV’s dancing career didn’t last.

His sister-in-law, the Princess Palatine, wrote of a meal in which the king wolfed down

“four bowls of different soups, a pheasant, a partridge, a large bowl of salad, two slices of ham, a slice of mutton and a dish of pastries, finished with fruit and boiled eggs.”

Fabulous Legs

King Louis was very vain of his muscular legs.

(Check out those calves!)

In most royal portraits, he’s exposing his shapely legs.

It’s possible that in the above portrait of the older Louis, a younger man’s legs were painted in.

Don’t judge him too harshly.

18th-century men were so “into”their calves that they sometimes used “falsies” inside their stockings to get the perfect profile.

A well-shaped pair of legs were regarded much the same way a six-pack of abs would be today.

Leg double or no, It’s doubtful that ballet was merely a tool for manipulation to Louis.

Without him, it may have remained a social dinner dance for bored aristocrats.

By the time he sat for the above portrait, he had:

    1. Created the Royal Academy of Dance, the precursor to the Paris Opera.
    2. Been instrumental in codifying the five main foot positions used in ballet today.
    3. Helped make French the art form’s official language


February 7th is Ballet Day.


Leave a Reply