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Sadler’s Wells ballet guide

A group of male dancers dressed in white feathers, performing on stage on stage.

Tell me about coming to Sadler’s Wells

Should I arrive early?

The start time on your ticket is when the lights go down and the show begins, so you’ll want to be in your seat by then. Some productions don’t allow latecomers until a break in the action or at the interval (though, if you do miss the start, you can watch the action on the monitors in the foyer).

But we want to stay stress-free, so give yourself time. You can go through the bag-check, leave your coat in the cloakroom, visit the bathroom (yes hello, I am your mum), get a drink and a snack if you like – there are several bars at Sadler’s Wells, and the Fox Garden Court Cafe next to the Lilian Baylis Theatre has cakes and meals. Also, Sadler’s Wells has a lot of really great spots for people watching.

A Sadler's Wells staff member stocking the bar
Sadler's Wells Bars © Ana Lečić
Is it okay to come to the ballet by myself?

It totally is. You can spend your time before or after exactly like you’d want – and did we mention the people watching?

What do I wear?

There is no dress code at Sadler’s Wells. Some people might dress up for the ballet – others come straight from work, school or college. T-shirt and sneakers? Absolutely. Want to break out a tuxedo or tiara? Go for it. We don’t care what you’re wearing when you come to the ballet at Sadler’s Wells – we only care that you have a wonderful evening. If you feel comfortable and feel you’re looking good, then you, my friend, are PERFECT.

Are there a lot of rules about behaviour at a show?

Not so many. The big one is about phones – it’s dark in the auditorium, so the light from phones can be distracting. It can also be off-putting to dancers during performance, and they have enough to worry about up on their toes. We also ask you not to film or record the show. (Before or after, though? Snap away and share your photos with the Sadler’s social media gang.)

Some people in the audience are very relaxed about their neighbours whispering or rustling sweets – but be aware it can be distracting to others. Just – be kind, play nice and treat people like you hope they’d treat you.

What happens if I have a problem?

Can’t find your tickets, or your seats or the bathrooms? Ask one of our brilliant ushers, dressed in black. They are on every level in the theatre, and they will always do their best to help or answer questions.

What happens at the interval?

Some shows don’t have an interval – they take you right through without a break. But if there is an interval, it’s a chance to stretch your legs, get a drink, have a chat or do some more people watching. Also, to visit the bathroom (yes, still your mum). Intervals usually last 15-20 minutes – you will hear announcements when it’s time to take your seats.

What happens at the end of the show?

Oh, this is fun – the curtain call, when everyone bows. Ballet gives good curtain call – after a demanding show, the dancers deserve some love. People applaud, sometimes give a standing ovation – and this is when you can take photos.

Inside the Sadler's Wells auditorium during show bows
Sadler's Wells Theatre © Philip Vile
Will I enjoy myself?

Honestly, we can’t promise this. Just like films, books or music, reactions to ballets are very personal and can be very different from person to person. What we can promise is that we will do our best to make you feel welcome and comfortable – and that we hope you’ll have an incredible time.


Tell me about ballet

What it ballet?

Ballet is a lot of things, but the two fundamental factors are movement and music. It uses them to share stories, ideas or emotions on stage, with all the excitement of theatre: costume, design and lighting. When those elements all come together, the effect can be thrilling – amplifying your emotion and sense of involvement.

Ballet developed from the 17th century, and many of its classics – famous story ballets with music by Tchaikovsky, like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker – come from the late 19th century. Since then, ballet has moved in all directions – telling different stories or none, blending its movement language with other dance forms like contemporary, musical theatre and hip hop.

Classical ballet is often what people imagine when they hear the word “ballet.” Its movement often looks elegant and graceful, with fluid turns and leaps. But ballet can also be fiercely athletic with speed and attack. Costumes can be realistic, fantastical or functional – you’ll often see tutus, tights and unitards, enhancing the body’s lines. Female dancers often wear pointe shoes, helping them stand tall and balance.

The cast of Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty performing on stage
The Sleeping Beauty © Bill Cooper
Do I have to know about ballet to enjoy the production?

Ballet is a rich and varied art form – but fundamentally it’s about music and movement, and these are things that go straight to the heart. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen a ballet before – every ballet fans had a first time. You know when you send a friend to a film you love, or share your favourite books or music with them – and it blows their mind? That’s what we’re hoping you’ll feel after your first dance show.

Do I have to read up about the show before I see it?

We like to think that you can see any of our productions without having to do homework – there’s no test at the end. But a bit of preparation can help you know what to expect. The Sadler’s Wells website has links to films, posts and articles with background material, often involving the show’s creatives.

Some ballets tell a story, especially a classic. The companies work hard to make sure they communicate story clearly – but it won’t hurt to look at the synopsis and get an idea about plot and the main characters. Other ballets are abstract – they don’t have a narrative, but are more about atmosphere, ideas or emotions. Again, links to interviews will reveal what the artists were excited by when they made the work, and help you feel that you’re pointing in the right direction when you arrive.

A great place to start when you’re preparing for a visit to the ballet is the music – ballets usually have amazing scores, from surging classical melodies to moody cinema-type music. Even if you don’t want to read up, you can get those sounds in your head before you come.

Truly, we love a nerd at Sadler’s – so the links on our website are a great place to start if you fancy a deep dive into the world of the show.


Ten ballet terms


The heart of the theatre, beyond the foyer, where the audience sits to watch the show.


A female classical dancer, often performing on point. Is there a common word for a male dancer? There is not. The world is sexist and terrible.


Usually the central artist involved in the production. The choreographer will devise steps and sequences, and build them into the story or theme they want to explore.


A ballet often begins with a piece of music that sets the mood, even before the first steps have been taken.


A 360 degree turn on one foot. A series of pirouettes together can be spectacular.


One of the fundamental ballet movements in which a dancer bends the knees and straightens them again, usually with the feet turned out and heels on the ground.


Dancing on pointe means dancing on the tip of your toes in pointe shoes. These shoes have stiffened toes, like a little platform to bear the ballerina’s entire body weight on one foot.

A group of female ballet dancers standing en pointe in a line on dark-lit stage. They wear long chiffon dresses.

English National Ballet in Akram Khan’s Giselle © Laurent Liotardo


The classic ballet skirt, built up of lots of layers.


This is a signature ballet look, where dancers’ legs and feet rotate outwards from the hip to give them more flexibility of movement.


A person who welcomes you and shows you to your seat. At Sadler’s Wells, they wear black and you’ll find them in the foyer or at the doors into the auditorium.