Edgar Degas was fascinated by ballet, producing over a thousand works on the subject. While this work appears to depict a performance, the presence of a third ballerina at rest indicates it may in fact be a dress rehearsal, to which Degas was often granted access.
The painting's side view is unconventional. It is as if we are observing from a box at the edge of the stage. The lines on the floor, which may represent tracks for sliding scenery, emphasise Degas's dynamic composition while evoking the staging of ballet.