The Legacy of Jules Léotard

The dance leotard has become hugely successful over a relatively short period of time. It was developed by a truly revolutionary French acrobatic performer named Jules Léotard who developed the art of trapeze. His immense success as a trapeze artist helped popularise this one-piece garment which he used to call his maillot and has now lived on to bear his name.

Léotard, the son of a gymnastics instructor was born in Toulouse, France. He originally set out to study Law and after passing all of his exams, it seemed almost certain he would join the legal profession. However, at the age of 18 he began to experiment with trapeze bars, ropes and rings which were suspended over a swimming pool. Soon afterwards, Léotard left his prospects of joining the legal profession behind as he joined the Cirque Napoleon.

It was November 12, 1859 when Léotard made his first public appearance as a trapeze artist. After this, he became the first ever performer to complete a full mid-air somersault as he jumped from one trapeze to the other. His act consisted of him jumping between three trapezes over a period of about twelve minutes after which he would complete a full mid-air somersault before landing on a carpet-covered safety mat. In 1861, Léotard moved to London where he appeared at the Alhambra Theatre in London’s Leicester Square. Here, Léotard’s performance was carried out over the heads of diners which proved to be incredibly popular.

Several years after his death, Léotard’s maillot became known as the leotard, and today continues to be worn by millions of dancers of all disciplines and abilities from around the world. When we consider that this garment has been around for just a relatively short period of time, the fact that it remains so popular among dancers today is a testament to the legacy that Léotard has left. The reason behind this legacy is that Léotard needed his maillot to allow for completely unrestricted movement in much the same way that today’s dancers do too. Just like Léotard’s maillot, the modern day leotard provides a snug, formfitting all-in-one piece of dancewear that help’s accentuate the dancer’s performance.

Over the years the dance leotard has developed into many different styles such as tank, cap sleeve, camisole, polo neck and long sleeved, and within each of these there is a multitude of variations. Furthermore, it has become synonymous with styles of dance such as ballet and jazz for which getting the right type of dance leotard is considered just as important as getting the right pair of dance shoes.

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