French ballet prints, 17th century. Ballet has its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. It spread from Italy to France with the help of Catherine de' Medici. In the late 17th century Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) within which emerged the first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet. The predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet reflects this history.
Ballet origin can be traced to the 17th century's elaborate and flamboyant entertainments celebrating marriages of wealth and power devised at European Royal courts. King Louis XIV of France, known as the Sun King, was a passionate dancer himself. The performances were a mixture of spoken word, music, dance and pantomime. They contained spectacular ceremonial processions with technical effects and extravagant costumes. The scenarios were based by the myths of ancient Greece and Rome or on themes such as the four seasons, the natural world or events happening in distant lands. Costumes were imaginative and fantastical, decorated with symbols designated to help the audience to recognize the characters in the story. The size of these costumes often limited dancers movements.
During Middle Ages, Church considered dance as a sin and condemned it. Records of Medieval dance are fragmented and limited, but a noteworthy dance reference from the medieval period is the allegory of the Danse Macabre. During the Renaissance, dance experienced growing popularity. Country dances, performed for pleasure, became distinct from court dances, which had ceremonial and political functions. In Germany, originated from a modified ländler, the waltz was introduced in all the European courts. The 16th century Queen of France Catherine de' Medici promoted and popularized dance in France and helped develop the ballet de cour. The production of the Ballet Comique de la Reine in 1581 is regarded by scholars as the first authentic ballet. In the 17th century, the French minuet, characterized by its bows, courtesies and gallant gestures, permeated the European cultural landscape.