Ballet Exercises at the Barre to Warm Up
It’s been cold in New York the last few days, we even got a little snow! Always a thrill – but less so since there was no heat in my bedroom and I started to get sick. All this made me think a lot about warming up.
In ballet we warm up at the barre, holding on to the horizontal poles attached to the walls. We treat the barre as if it were a partner – not standing too close or too far away and never pulling or hanging on it. Yet the barre provides a steady support to assist with balance as our muscles are being primed for dancing.
The warmup portion of class is also called a barre and is how every ballet class starts in every country of the world. At least we all agree on something! Here are short explanations of the main exercises you will do at the barre:
1. Plié: to bend: The squats of the ballet world, pliés consist of bending the knees outwards over the toes while the torso stays upright. In fact, I lied, it’s not at all a squat! Read more about pliés here.
2. Tendu: to stretch: Requires the working foot to press down, as if cleaning the floor with a sponge on the bottom of ones foot, reaching out along the floor until just the tip of the toe is on the floor and then returning in the same way to the starting position. Cleans floors well.
3. Degagé: to disengage: like a tendu, except with a small flicking explosion under the toes of the working leg like a mini firecracker that propels the foot just a few inches off the floor. Don’t try this at home. (I’m kidding – do as many as you want – they will also tone your butt and inner thighs!)
4. Rond de Jambe à terre: around the leg on the floor. It’s really drawing a half circle with the working leg on the floor around the standing leg and then connecting that half circle by bringing the foot through first position like a capital letter D. The rest of the body stays upright and tall as the working leg rotates smoothly, drawing a half-circle along the floor, and reaching your leg in a large circle as far away as possible, like to Singapore. The idea is to keep the rest of the body still and quiet as the working leg rotates smoothly in the hip socket – don’t do the hula.
5. Frappé: to strike: the working foot starts flexed and bent with the heel at the ankle and the knee turned out. You brush (strike) the floor with the bottom of your foot as your leg straightens and your foot points. I tell my students to imagine kicking a small vicious dog that is trying to bite their ankles. It’s self defense! But don’t tell the ASPCA.
6. Developpé: a developing movement: Your working foot points as your toe draws up the inside of your standing leg to your knee to a passé position with your knee turned out to the side. Then extend and straighten your leg to the front, side, or back, turning out and reaching out through the tips of your pointed foot, and then close your leg in the starting position. Developpés remind me of a time-lapse video of a flower blooming – gorgeous and hard to believe. (Don’t lift your legs super high for now. Work on low, straight legs, and gorgeous pointed feet first. We’ll work on height later.)
7. Grand Battements: large battement. (Rhymes with pokemon.) — You’ll get a big kick out of this step. (Heh) Battement means beaten, and refers to the way the working leg goes away from and back to the standing leg – like it is beating the standing leg. Any step that has this quality is called a battement so the full names of these steps are actually ‘battement tendu’, ‘battement degagés’, ‘battement frappés’, etc. A grand battement is like a huge degagé. You brush your foot off the floor, straight and pointed and high into the air and then return to the starting position. (Get it, a big kick?) Read more about them here. And don’t be confused between battement vs. supermon, (That’s a joke! Get it? Batman vs. Superman?! Okay, okay, nevermind…)
There are many other exercises your teacher may add at the barre – fondus, relevés, rond de jambe en l’air, but this is a good start. One more thing. A word about your standing leg…
Oh Standing Leg, Oh Standing Leg…
The leg you stand on, which is supporting you, is your rock, your support, and needs equal attention as the one doing the fancy stuff. Your standing leg is like the trunk of a tree – solid and reaching down into the earth. Keep your hip bones perpendicular to the bar as if they are headlights on a car and must go straight ahead down the “road”. Be sure to keep your standing leg turned out, by pressing down as if you are lengthening your leg while at the same time lift up on your entire standing side, rotating your upper thigh so your knee stays aligned with your foot. Turn out comes from your hips! If your standing leg must plié, bend your knee out over your standing foot. Press down on your standing leg and lift up on your supporting side to help your working leg close into first or fifth position with a straight knee!
That’s it! Stay warm and see you at the barre.
*One of my dancers, Arielle, dancing in the snow.
Tonight’s class (12/19) is a Nutcracker class – we will learn the Spanish Chocolate variation from Nutcracker — with fans!