Where did "Tutu" come from?
The origins of the term “tutu” are not as elegant, beautiful and romantic as the garment itself. In fact the term tutu seems to have stemmed from a vulgarity.
Legend has it that the term tutu originally came from a slang word used by commoners who attended ballet performances in the mid-1700s. Typically the rich elite would sit on the upper levels of the ballet theatres and look down on the performances, while the working-class, common folk would sit on the floors below the stage and look up at the dancers as they performed. Unfortunately ballerinas in the 18th century were not blessed with the new-fangled undergarments we now have today, which meant that often during performances the crowd sitting below the stage got more out of the performance than they bargained for.
Tutu was a name given to the area that was often seen by the commoners under the ballerinas’ skirts. So, in fact, the word tutu was intended as a slang word similar to “crotch." Though designers eventually figured out a way to eliminate this embarrassing costuming problem, the name tutu stuck.
Though the first tutu was merely a skirt cut just above the ankles to reveal a dancer’s feet, these skirts eventually migrated north.As ballet became more and more popular two types of tutu emerged: the long romantic version and the shorter, more provocative style (now often called the Classic tutu).
The first romantic tutu is often attributed to the famous virtuoso ballerina Marie Taglioni. In 1800s Taglioni became known as the first ballerina to dance “en pointe”.The tutus worn by Taglioni were often cut to below the knee to reveal the intricacies of her famous legwork. These romantic tutus were delicate, feminine and were made of material that allowed Taglioni to move about freely floating through the air and executing the precise movements that gave her cult status.
To this day the romantic tutu is still made to be long and flowing, giving the ballerina a weightless, ethereal appearance.As ballet continued to become more popular connoisseurs of the art form demanded to see more when it came to the intricate dance movements that dancers performed. Again the tutu shrank. The style of tutu commonly referred to as “classic” is a short, stiff skirt that juts out horizontally from a ballerina’s hipbones exposing her legs entirely. The classic tutu is often worn with a leotard, which hugs the dancers body.
Both romantic and classic tutus are designed to give ballerinas a light, airy look, making look as if they are floating when they move across the stage. Although the tutu has evolved significantly, tutus today still serve the same purpose as those designed two hundred years ago.