I found this clip of a pretty ballerina from the turn of the 20th century. Of course film was in its infancy back then. There is no way audiences watching the demonstration would have seen choppy, weird movement. That is due to the film medium. But it is also clear how far ballet has come due to sheer strength training in female dancers. Also pointe shoes were also not as strong as they are now. Ms. Zambelli is quite clearly balancing more on her actual foot rather than blocking in a shoe. The pain must have been almost unbearable. Still, she is very quick with clean petite allegro footwork. She is not as tall as the dancers are today. Maybe not as thin but it is really hard to tell considering she is in a dress full of tulle and an extra tight corset pulling her waist to a frightening degree. How did she breath?
This is another dancer from the same time period. She doesn't seem to be as classical in form as Carlotta Zambelli. But she still displays the same quickness and even more pointe work. Again, you can see her shoes are really just strengthened with some darning plus other hardening agents of the time. She is really balancing directly on her toes. The guy lurking in the background of this clip is a bit...creepy. But it's nice to get a look at the past.
It also highlights the ballet world that Balanchine grew up in and why he seemed to favor quick, clear footwork over legato dancing.
It would be interesting to know what audiences back then would think of our valkyrie like 21st century ballerinas. Maybe they would be frightened by them.