“Danse de caractère” literally means “a dance with a character” in French and is used in two different ways: the first one describes a dance revealing a character’s nature, the second one denotes a stylized representation of traditional folk dance, a supple “portrait of a people”.
Throughout the 18th century, ballet was developing while deriving its techniques from national dance elements and, at the beginning of the 19th century, a stylized version of folk dancing took root in the ballet world. Such performances were all about dancers refining folk elements through classic techniques while dressed in appropriate attire with corresponding accessories.
It was also then when character dance was brought into the structure of a ballet show. Its purpose was to create a stylistic contrast on stage – the one between the simple, rustic being and the otherworldly entity expressed by means of classic ballet. It was also crucial for indicating the time and place of the events in the story. The second half of the 19th century gradually made ballets monumental; vibrant effects were added to them along with character dance elements, in which classic elegancy meets ethnic passion.