Most teachers dedicate a few minutes of class time to ballet barre stretches or stretching in general. Some leave you free to stretch yourself, and others give a combination of ballet barre stretches.
It is very important for dancers to be both flexible and strong. If you want to read more about stretching exercises, you can click here.
Ballet barre stretches usually involve lifting your leg gracefully onto the barre, perhaps with a developpe to the front or side, and sometimes to the back.
Often you cambre towards and away from the working leg, sometimes sliding the foot along the barre for an even deeper stretch. Plies, rises and releves are sometimes added to the mix.
Why Do We Do Ballet Barre Stretches?
The reason that dancers do ballet barre stretches is to work on and develop their extension and placement. These ballet stretches are usually done when the dancer is warm enough to coax the muscles and connective tissue into greater length and flexibility. A good time to do a ballet barre stretch is either after barre work, or at the end of the class. Never do this at the beginning of the class, as you could overstretch the muscles.
Some Examples of Ballet Barre Stretches
I normally have my dancers face the barre and developpe their legs devant onto the barre. They aim to keep their hips level and both hips square to the barre, while maintaining turnout in both the supporting and the lifted leg.
In this position the dancers can fondu and stretch on the supporting leg, ensuring the knee is over the toes at all times. They can rise and lower and even practise balancing. They can go forward lengthening their bodies over the leg to stretch out the hamstrings. It is a good idea to work on strength as well while the dancers are stretching, and they can use their strength to try and lift the legs off of the barre.
From there the dancers do the same in seconde position, doing a side bend over the lifted leg. In seconde position the dancers normally like to slide their leg along the barre and try to get as close to a side split as the can. They can do the same for forward splits when their legs are devant.
They can then try with the leg extended behind them, but this is tricky for the non-flexible dancer. From this position, I let them put their hands on the floor and try and lift the leg off of the barre as high as they can.
Even though dancers are focusing on their stretching, they need to stay in the proper alignment and work on keeping their hips level and controlled.
On a final note, stretching should be relaxed and restful. Breathe and enjoy it.
Here is an excellent video that better explains what I have written about above. Enjoy….