Ballet bar exercises make up sometimes up to 50% of the ballet class, and bar work has been going on as long as ballet has been around. Some people think that bar exercises are outdated, and they are not needed anymore in the training of ballet.
As a ballet student you will either love or hate bar work. It can be pretty boring to perform the same exercises year in and year out with little modification to the basic steps, so why you ask do we need to do this to ourselves? Is all that pain worth it?
Well bar work is a staple for most dance forms, and believe it or not, it is not going away anytime soon. In ballet, bar work exercises are both fast and slow, but it all serves to strengthen the muscles.
The design of a barre includes both the handrail and its support mechanism depending on whether the barre is to be portable or permanently located. A permanent barre typically consists of a handrail that is mounted to and supported by a wall, whereas a portable barre consists of a handrail mounted onto a rigid or adjustable, free-standing supporting structure. Some barres have two parallel handrails at different heights to accommodate people of differing heights. Barre handrails and supports are typically made of metal, wood, plastic, or a combination of these materials.
When ballet dancers come to class, even at professional level, they normally start with plies. This is a great warm up for the legs and to get all those turnout muscles activated.
Slow exercises like plies, are normally performed at the beginning of the class, to stretch and warm up muscles, and to focus on proper body form. The faster exercises at the barre condition dancers to perfect their ballet technique while moving in the center.
Ballet Bar Exercises
Each exercise at the barre has a specific purpose, such as to strengthen feet and legs, increase extension, improve flexibility, and develop ballon (jumps). Proper and perfect form (posture, weigh placement and placement of body parts) is striven for by the dancer in all the exercises.
A barre helps dancers by providing a means of stability and balance for them while performing the various exercises required. It is an essential tool when first learning foot placement technique, and also for beginning pointe work for dancers, who have not yet developed the strength and technique needed for pointe work. The barre continues to be an important tool in all levels of ballet.
When used for promoting general fitness, barre exercises may incorporate a wide variety of activities to increase stamina, flexibility and strength. the barre is also used when training steps such a pirouettes or fouettes.
Plies are usually taken from 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th at professional level, but little ones and beginners will normally start with 1st and 2nd.
Plies are an essential training tool, as the dancer must learn to place her knees over her feet when bending, and also learn how to land after jumping in the center. She needs to learn how to use her turnout muscles, without worrying about falling over, as she has the bar their for support.
Tendus are usually the next exercise. The constant pointing and closing that you see dancers do with their feet never leaving the floor is a great exercise to teach dancers how to use the floor and their feet, as well and again strengthen their turnout and placing. This exercise is usually done a lot to create muscle memory over time. The muscles need to be constantly reminded how to work in ballet so that when the more complex steps in the center are executed, they can be done flawlessly.
Ronde Jambe is another bar exercise that is done often. This is the movement of the leg in circles, on the ground and then sometimes in the air as the dancer becomes more advanced, is another critical element for strengthening and improving that all important turnout.
Ballet bar exercises also incorporate quick movements like battement glisses, petit battement and battement jete, which are all used to train speed and precision work over time.
There are also bar exercises that strengthen and limber the muscles, like adage work. These are slow moving exercises where the dancer extends one leg off of the floor at a height manageable to the dancer and moves the leg according to the choreography without distorting the hip line. Grande battement is another one where the dancer works to get the legs higher maintaining her turnout every time she does the exercise.
Ballet bar exercises are also a great way to train for pointe work. The legs and ankles need to be worked at the bar using rises and releves, so that the dancer is able to stand on her toes when she is strong enough.
If you are one of those dancers who hates bar work, then you need to change your mindset, as the bar is your best friend when it comes to developing into a beautiful dancer. Think of the bar as your partner, whom you are holding hands with and give each other support throughout your work. Barre work helps dancers prepare for partnering with the barre simulating the support of a real partner.
Try not to unbalance your partner by pulling on the bar to hard. Just rest your hand lightly on the top and feel what muscles you need to work to balance yourself better.
Love it or hate it, ballet bar exercises are here to stay.