For well over a hundred years, dancers in every part of the world have begun their ballet classes at the barre. From the first step into a ballet classroom, the dancer whether a pre dancer or a child of seven, ten or even fifteen, years of age this discipline will continue with the dancer throughout their entire dancing life. Every ballet class begins with barre work.
The real dancer knows that barre work helps to gain and maintain technique and is a necessary preparation for performance but that it fills no other function. If preparation makes an important contribution to the final result then barre work is to be resepected but not necessarily adored. There are dancers who do adore barre work…..
Good and bad habits we aquire as young dancers follow us into later life and it is at the barre where good habits are formed before taking them to the center of the floor. All exercises should be placed before strength is added. It should not be forgotten that a placed position includes correct carriage of the back, arms and head and not only the lower half of the body. All excerises should be given with great attention of the movement of the upper back, neck and eyes especially as this is where falult and bad habits so quickly become formed.
Each class always begins with plies and these have been proved to be the most beneficial and safe way of first exercising the legs. Along with por de bra and light stretching of the torso, plies contain a perfect begining warm up of the legs and body. After plies, the barre can then be said to work up through the feet, battement tendus, degages, soutenu, frappes and then to stomach and back with developpes and the hips with grand battements. Excerises should should vary in speed thoughout the time at the barre. Some should be slow for strength and control, and others fast for brilliance of execution.
The barre can also assist the beginner to greater turnout that is possible in the center without support. Proper turnout takes place just below the pelvis. All dancers have a different angle of turnout. The dancer is correctly requested to just keep the knees over the little toe. An important reason for turnout is balance. A person standing on one leg has better three dimensional contact with the floor if the foot is slightly turned out, than when the heel is pointed direclty backwards. From a technical point of view the advantages are endless. A dancer standing in fifth position with the feet correctly placed has distributed the weight of the body in the smallest area possible on the floor. If one leg is raised from this position the body has the least adjustment to make in order to bring the weight over the other foot, in fact only a matter of the width of the foot forward or back.
Another advantage of proper turnout is that it enables the legs to be lifted higher by freeing them in the hip joint. With the legs rotated outwards, a far wider angle can be reached. This is also true when lifting the leg back in an arabesque.
A slow controlled barre. benefits children and very experienced and intelligent dancers alike.
The common complete barre is:
Ronds de jambe a terre
Petits battements sur le cou de pied
Ronds de jambe en l’air
All these excercises should be done with set port de bras and head movements increasing in speed and strength through the years. In a ballet class that is between one and a quarter hour to one and a half hour the barre work should be approximately one half hour in duration.