If you pay attention to portraits of Louis XIV and compare them to those of his descendants you’ll notice a striking feature of his poses: his legs in tights are often visible. And this is no accident. Gifted with a capacity to learn complicated movements that set him apart from most in the 1680s, Louis used the ability to be steady, strong, and graceful on his feet to his advantage. Dance helped him craft the identity that he sought to project to his people as their absolute monarch.
Most importantly, as with everything else he did, the Sun King documented his dancing. Not only did his official dance master, Pierre Beauchamps, codify the kinds of steps he designed for the king on stage, he also named the five basic positions—“first position,” “second position,” etc.—and charted their succession in primitive notations on paper. In 1700, a student of Beauchamp’s named Raoul-Auger Feuillet made history by publishing a book that contained the steps to some of the court’s most famous ballroom dances. He called this conceptualization “chorégraphie”: Choreography, or the art of describing dance steps in characters, figures, and symbols. Modern dance notation, and with it the ballet, was born.