Why bother with ballet? Because, like opera, ballet is a visual and sonic spectacle unto itself. While well-intentioned, ballet's humble home on public TV cannot capture the music and the movement of a live performance. TV and video tend to deodorize dance, denuding it of the sound of footsteps--which invariably surprise first-time balletgoers and shock novice composers--and peppering programs with oddly timed close-ups and tedious long shots. I've found the best way into ballet is to think of it like baseball; if you show up knowing nothing about the game, the players, and the plot, you'll be stuck staring at strangely garbed athletes.

How do I enjoy ballet? I do what the dirty old men did a century and a half ago in czarist St. Petersburg, when ballet was a refuge for second-class composers and impoverished students seeking cheap entertainment: bring binoculars, or their genteel cousin, opera glasses. Also, I let my attention roam and follow the soloists in tandem with the entire corps de ballet. Those brainy beauties must not only memorize over an hour's worth of movement but also perform difficult physical feats as an ensemble. Ballet proves that masses of people can move together with breathtaking elegance without resorting to the sped-up flailing and quasi-Nazi sieg heils so prevalent on dance floors today.

Thanks to brilliant music by Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), The Sleeping Beauty's premiere in 1890 helped elevate ballet from second-class art to a spectacle rivaling opera. You probably know the story; a sleeping princess needs a kiss from a handsome prince to awaken. Borrowed from Perrault's famous tale La Belle au Bois Dormant, The Sleeping Beauty is a meditation on the elements of true love: time, luck, and blessings from above. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

Pacific Northwest Ballet dances The Sleeping Beauty Thurs-Sat Jun 5-7 at 7:30 pm, with matinees Sat Jun 7 at 2 pm and Sun Jun 8 at 1 pm (Mercer Arts Arena, 363 Mercer St, 292-2787), $16-$110.