Demystifying dressage: Can ballet teach the world to love dancing horses?

Story highlights

  • What happens when the worlds of dressage and ballet collide?
  • New performance aims to highlight similarities between the two disciplines
  • "You need strength. You need power. You need elegance" says FEI dressage chief
  • Organizers hope to develop more cross-cultural collaboration in future

While most people can appreciate the grace and athleticism of ballet, dressage -- the precision art of horse riding and training -- remains a puzzling spectacle to all but a few.

A new performance by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) aims to show that these two art forms are not so different.

For the launch of the flagship FEI World Cup Finals in Lyon, France the organizing body assembled the finest talent from the worlds of elite riding and ballet to show off their skills side by side.

"They're very similar in terms of athletic ability; they're very delicate but they're very powerful," said U.S. Jumping rider Charlie Jacobs, who joined dressage champion Charlotte Dujardin and dancers from the Minsk Bolshoi for the photoshoot.

Double Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin was just as impressed with her partnership with Belarusian maestro Kanstantsin Geronik -- calling it an "exciting" prelude to the competition in which she once again shattered world records.

The FEI's Director of Dressage, Trond Asmyr, says the organizers hoped to create a comparison to ballet which would open up the esoteric world to outsiders. He believes the parallels go beyond the athletes' physical abilities.

"You see a number of different elements in there. You need strength. You need power. You need elegance," he said.

"You need a feeling for what you're doing: it's not only a question of jumping as far as you can or as long as you can or as high as you can -- it's this combination of putting all these elements together to produce the optimal performance."

He was pleased with how much the riders got out of the day. He called Dujardin "a full-blown artist herself" but says seeing her perform alongside Geronik highlighted the virtuosos' similarities.

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The real test, he says, is to close your eyes and listen to the music. In either sport, you can imagine how the performer (or performer plus horse) could glide across the space.

Dujardin, the World number one Dressage rider, who took the dressage crown in Lyon, has been labeled "the girl with the dancing horse," but was enthused to see her horse-less dancing counterparts in action.

The evening after the photoshoot, organizers FEI took the riders to see the dancers on their own turf -- at the Lyon Amphitheatre where the Bolshoi performed Swan Lake as part of a nationwide French tour.

Asmyr says Dujardin told him she saw dance with "new eyes." He now has high hopes for developing the cross-cultural collaboration further in future.

"Ballet is certainly more well known around the world than dressage riding, so if we can facilitate an understanding from people about our sport, through the similarities with ballet, then we're very happy about that."

Read more: Globetrotting: The world's most traveled horse

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