In the 19th century, ballet dancers looked almost nothing like the chiseled athletes onstage today. And looking back at vintage photos raises all kinds of questions. How did they move in those costumes — or rise up on pointe in those ballet shoes?!
We’re able to see all this thanks in part to the invention of photography. With mass-produce images, dancers attracted a wider audience through post cards and promotional marketing.
Because of such photography, female dancers like Anna Pavlova became global celebrities. Pavlova developed more comfortable pointe shoes and then had them touched up in pictures to appear more ethereal. Cléo de Mérode flirted with the camera to reveal her enviable hairstyle and pencil-thin waist. Likewise, Mathilde Kschessinska seemed to wink at the lens, adding to her intrigue as a troublemaker within the Imperial Ballet. Young Emma Livry would forever be a sylph and a fierce advocate of fashion, even in the face of danger. Meanwhile, Aggrippina Vaganova’s sharp gestures revealed a talent for clear communication and a mind for interpreting technique.
These 20 photos will surprise you with the wonder and elegance of vintage ballerinas.