Has Going to See Ballet Suddenly Become Hip?

Ballet's normally fuddy-duddy audience has lately been invaded by trendy fashionistas looking for a killer Instagram backdrop.

Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev (1938 – 1993) dances with an unidentified cast member in Frank Ohman’s New York Dance Theatre production of ‘The Nutcracker,’ New York, New York, 1982. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images) Getty Images

Taylor Camille Smith went to see the New York City Ballet for the first time in October 2022. She wore a two-piece set by designer Christopher Esber, from New York’s coolest boutique, T.A.—both of which are tagged in an Instagram post documenting this night at the ballet. But, aside from the outfit, it’s the geotag on Smith’s post, “David H. Koch Theater,” that stands out.

Any current or former dancer, or writer-who-often-writes-about-dance, might be used to seeing Instagram posts from David H. Koch Theater, where New York City Ballet and other dance companies often perform: pictures from dancers going to see their friends dance, maybe a post from the balletomanes who insert themselves into the scene. But ballet has historically been fairly insular, gate-kept by ticket prices, an air of elitism and, perhaps, the fuddy-duddy-ness of an older fanbase. Seeing young adult “non-dancers” attend the ballet can feel like a rarity. But Smith, a writer, director, and host of the podcast “Beyond Our Cells,” is one of the many “non-dancers” I’ve seen posting from the ballet in the past year. 

Reed Kavner, a comedy producer, posted to his Instagram stories from his first night out to the ballet, also in October, seeing a repertoire that included a piece by Justin Peck. Carly Loman, a senior designer at Simon and Schuster, took her boyfriend to the ballet for the first time: “I wore a Courreges skirt suit that I got on Depop,” she was excited to tell me. An influencer with 110 thousand followers, Zhanna Red, posted a “get ready with me” video as she picked out a ruffled pink dress to wear to see the Toronto Ballet. And designer Camille Albertine brought one of her own signature designs, a pink frilly heart-shaped purse, to a night out at Lincoln Center in December of 2021.

Courtesy Camille Albertine

Between posts like these, and the recent ubiquity of a ballet-influenced fashion craze dubbed “balletcore,” a hopeful lover of ballet could be convinced that going to the ballet might, possibly, maybe be trendy right now. 

In many ways, this potential trend of going to the ballet carries all the signs of a few other recent trends of the past two years. When life opened up again after early pandemic days, posts from influencers on TikTok and Instagram brought new, younger crowds to classic New York bars like Bemelmans and King Cole Bar. Going somewhere institutionally classic and beautiful was perfect fodder for a good time, an amazing outfit, and a good “photo dump” for one’s Instagram grid. So why can’t the same rules apply to ballet? What better setting to debut a new outfit than the gilded stairwell of an opera house?

A quick search of “#balletcore” proves that, at the very least, ballet has infiltrated the fashion world. The popular fashion Instagram account Who What Wear declared the new Miu Miu satin ballet flats as the “prettiest fall It shoe”; the shoe has been seen on the likes of Bella Hadid and Rosalía. The cult brand Praying released a similar style of ballet flat, in pretty pink satin with a pretty crystal heart on the toes. Fashionable influencers like stylist Hannah Ruth Zander can be found wearing leg warmers and tutu-esque skirts. When asked how ballet has influenced her style, Zander cites the art form’s “extremely feminine qualities—baby pink, ribbons and bows, silk, tulle, sweetheart necklines, and ruching.” Camille Albertine’s heart-shaped purses, with ruffled trim, fit neatly into the “balletcore” category. “Ballet is the apogee of elegance,” she explained. “And elegance is something I consider in everything I make.” Albertine also recently designed and made a pale blue ballet-inspired dress, with elegant layers of tulle reminiscent of Barbara Karinska’s designs for George Balanchine’s “Serenade.” She posted a picture of herself wearing the dress to the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.

I asked Smith if getting dressed up was part of the appeal of going to the ballet. “Definitely. And many other ballet goers had the same idea. It was like a fashion show and at intermission and the close of the show, everyone was taking their pictures and complementing one another on their brilliantly executed outfits.”

Gauging the actual data of whether or not balletcore or social media has increased ticket sales for ballet companies is a little more difficult to determine, especially in these post-pandemic recovery days. At Miami City Ballet, subscriptions are down from pre Covid numbers but single ticket sales for their first repertory show were strong. Their Nutcracker hit an all time record in sales. The Washington Ballet had similar positive results for their production of The Nutcracker, but also faces the challenge of a dip in subscriptions. Boston Ballet saw an increase of ticket sales for The Nutcracker as well, though “we can’t say if it’s related to current trends and wouldn’t want to attribute it to that,” said Boston Ballet’s media relations manager, Jessica O’Neill, before adding,  “we are seeing more patrons dressed up and taking photos in the lobby than ever before.”

Of course, there are other reasons to go to the ballet. Smith attended the ballet eager to hear Solange’s new composition for the New York City Ballet. Kavner was brought to the ballet to celebrate his good friend’s birthday. Loman is a longtime lover of ballet who wanted to share the experience with her boyfriend. But the pictures you get to take, the outfits you get to wear, are a bonus not to be dismissed. And ballet companies should perhaps take note. Because once the Instagram posts are posted, seats are taken, phones are put away, and these fashionable newcomers might leave ballet with a newfound love and appreciation of the art.  Has Going to See Ballet Suddenly Become Hip?