For those wondering who invented ballet, the answer is not as clear cut as one might hope it to be. In short, ballet was not invented by a single person; ballet evolved over a long period of time (centuries) into the art form that it is today.
The Meaning of 'Ballet'
The word 'ballet' comes from the Latin word ballare, which simply means to dance (for those who understand Spanish, the analogy to 'bailar' is evident). The word ballare did not refer to a specific type of dance, but to the general word which means 'to dance'. Over several centuries, the word 'ballet' was formed in French, from the Latin root, and became an English word as a direct borrowing from French. Many people find this interesting trivia because our modern interpretation of what ballet is pertains to one certain type of dance, but the history of ballet is long and complex. Ballet did not come into existence through one person's or even one dance company's ingenuity.
The Very Beginning: Who Invented Ballet
The French and the Russians made ballet into what it is today. The artistic performance dance evolved into a profession in France and Russia, and was brought to America primarily by George Balanchine, who immigrated from Russia and became the first artistic director of the New York City Ballet. Hundreds of years before the Sleeping Beauty Ballet and the Nutcracker Ballet were composed and choreographed, the roots of ballet were planted in Italy.
In the fifteenth century, what would become ballet began in the royal courts of Italy. Ballet began as a danced version of the sport fencing, featuring very little choreography, and absolutely no ballerinas. Just like Shakespeare's stages were full of male actors (even in female roles), so were the earliest ballet performances strictly given by men. This tradition went on for centuries.
From Italy, ballet traveled north to France where it continued as an art form in the royal courts. During the reign of Louis XIV, ballet became even more prevalent because the king enjoyed the dancing performances so much that he opened the first ballet academy in Paris in 1661. From that moment on, ballet became slowly more and more professional. Dancers were still, in comparison to today's standards, not very technically gifted; the focus was not on choreography and technique, but rather on performing in such a way so as to please the audience (although the king was generally the only important audience member!).
Ballet developed and changed over the centuries in France, and got its final facelift in Russia during the early years of the 20th century. Ballet was finally becoming the disciplined artistic technique that we are so familiar with today. The government in Russia at the time was strictly overseeing not only all performances in the country, but also how all schools (not only ballet schools) were educating their students. There wasn't much room for improvisation, but ballet certainly didn't suffer from this strict oversight. Russian ballet strongly influenced American ballet because the influential George Balanchine brought his talent and expertise from Russia to New York City in 1934 after several years in France.
Attributing the Art
Although there isn't a single person on whom one can bestow the honor of being the one who invented ballet, it is clear that the art form has a long history that has made it into the amazing art that it is today. Each phase of development, from the first improvised performances in Italian and French courts to the strict oversight of governmental authorities over ballet schools in Russia, all of these elements have shaped ballet into the performance art loved around the world still today.