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Why Do Ballerinas Wear Tutus?

Why Do Ballerinas Wear Tutus?

Ballerinas show off their graceful dancing onstage around the whole world, but why do they all wear tutus around their waists? Dance Magazine leaps into the answer:

The first tutu

The tutu was first introduced to the world by ballet dancer Marie Taglioni. Her father wrote a play called “La Sylphide” to show off Marie’s talents, and when she performed it at the Paris Opera, the tutu was such a hit that it influenced the clothing dancers wear to this day.

While there’s no definite story behind the garment’s name, it’s likely that it came from the French children’s word “tu-tu,” which means “bottom,” since it’s worn around the ballerina’s waist.

Romantic tutu

Marie Taglioni’s tutu design became known as the Romantic tutu. It was a large, bell-shaped garment that was made out of soft fabric. The Romantic tutu covered most of the ballerina’s legs and usually ended down by their calf or ankle. 

“La Sylphide,” the play that Marie Taglioni’s father wrote for her, was the first ballet that featured dancing en pointe (on tip-toes) as part of the artistry of the dance, rather than as an acrobatic stunt. The tutu was designed to raise up above Marie’s feet and keep them in the spotlight.

Classical tutu

In the late 1800s, ballerinas began tweaking their tutus so they didn’t sit so low on their legs. That alteration let ballerinas move more freely and gracefully onstage, and tutus continued to get higher and higher until they reached the Classical form we see today. These are made of stiffer materials, so they don’t droop below the dancer’s waist and hips.

Today there are several variations on the Classical tutu. One called the pancake tutu is supported by a hoop inside the fabric, and sits on the dancer’s hip. The platter tutu is similar, but it sits on the dancer’s waists instead. One more called the powderpuff tutu is light and fluffy, so it doesn’t need a hoop to support itself.

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on the blog!