All About Barre

Hi everybody!  Today’s blog post is kicking off our technique theme for the month!  Not every blog post will be in the technique theme, but most of them will be.  I hope you enjoy this blog post and the September theme!

Today we are discussing barre:  The purpose of it, the reasons for some of the major steps practiced at the barre and the sequence of exercises. I hope it is very helpful to you.


The Purpose of Barre

The structure of ballet class was established when King Louis XIV of France began teaching the style of dance in what is now the Paris Opera Ballet School.  It’s the oldest company and school in the world!

The barre was designed to replicate the development of difficulty in the steps of ballet.  Movements at the barre start off simple, getting more complex as they progress.  The first combinations of barre cover the fundamental aspects of technique.  Advanced exercises like rond de jambes, frappés and grand battements combine some of these basic skills and more resemble the steps performed in center.

So, the purpose of the barre is to break down the complex steps done in center and then slowly build them up.  The more complicated movements done at the barre help you find your balance and focus on your technique. They prepare you for center where you have to stand up on your own.

It’s like a bird learning to fly.  It starts off learning to walk, to flap its wings and a few other basic bird skills.  It then does a few trial runs of flying with its parents.  After the young bird has mastered the skill, it can fly off alone.

Types of Barres

Numerous styles of training are evident everywhere in ballet.  The Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, Royal Academy of Dance, Balanchine methods – they all have different class structures.  In this section we are going to recognize a few different styles of barre.

The first difference is a set barre.  The teachers have pre-designed combinations and classes that their students repeat every day.  The benefit is that the students can really focus on their technique rather than trying to learn new combinations.  Furthermore, no precious class time is wasted, but rather there is time for corrections are very usual in this kind of class.  On the other hand, students don’t get the chance to practice their skill of learning choreography – they do the same stuff every day.

Many teachers plan to balance out the difference between these two class structures by either changing the combinations every 2 or 3 classes, or by pre-setting only a few combinations in the class and varying the others.  Both are good ways to get the best of both worlds.

Another difference in training styles is the length of barre.  Balanchine, for example, believed in a very short barre.  He wanted his dancers to practice speed, precision, and musicality.  His barre sets were mainly filled with very fast tendus and dégagés.

This is quite the opposite for Cecchetti. This ballet master wanted his dancers to develop pristine technique, excellent fundamentals of ballet, and to be very well-placed and proper.  This in turn created a longer barre that really focused on the first few combinations – pliés, tendus, dégagés, and relevés.

Many teachers resolve the disparaging ideals by focusing their class that day on a certain step or fundamental.  The focus point will then dictate which combinations are needed and decide the length of the barre.  For example, a class focused on jumping would in turn create a shorter barre focused on dégagés and frappés. A turning class would be a medium-length barre with lots of balancing, while a placement-focused class would be a longer barre with lots of basic exercises.

The Fundamental Combinations

For most styles, the first exercise of the class is pliés.  This combination usually consists of demi pliés, grand pliés, and cambrés in multiple directions. In addition there may be a few balances in first, second and sous sous along the way.  The purpose of pliés is to establish the bending of the legs and prepare for jumping steps in the center.

Some classes begin with a warm-up, which is useful to increase blood circulation in the muscles and lubricate the joints as the students move purposefully and activate the feet, turnout, core, and upper back.

The second and third exercise of class is usually a tendu set.  The purpose of tendus is to establish the lengthening needed when you get to center, and it also works the articulation of the feet.  This is quite obvious given that the literal translation of tendu is to stretch. Tendus are usually done from first position and then fifth position.  Tendu combinations can also include passé à terre, demi-rond de jambe, pas de cheval, enveloppé, and temps lié.  These combinations can also include transferring of weight and switching of the working and supporting feet.

The fourth and fifth exercises are most commonly dégagé.  This exercise, also called a battement jeté, battement tendu jeté, battement glissé and a few other terms, is used to establish a release throughout the whole leg.  Dégagés can be performed from first (often facing the barre) and fifth.  These combinations can also include pas de cheval, enveloppé, temps lié, cloche and more.

Advancing in Complexity

Once the dancers have done five exercises and established the fundamentals, it can be time to move onto steps that more resemble the exercises done in center, only now with the support of the barre.

The first complex exercise is rond de jambe.  It is the sixth exercise of class.  Rond de jambe helps establish turnout (external rotation of the hip joint) – this challenging concept must be maintained as the leg moves from the front, side and back and reverses.  Other steps in a rond de jambe combination can include grand rond de jambe, cloche, développé, big stretches like lunges and circular cambrés, and balancing in attitude devant or derrière or retiré.

The next combination is typically a fondu.  Fondu is used to help create resistance as the leg moves from an extension to sur le cou de pied during which both legs bend and straighten.  Fondu combinations can also include développés, rond de jambe en l’air and other adagio-like steps.

Frappés come after fondus.  The purpose of this combination is to establish speed for petit allegros and other quick combinations.  These combinations can also include pirouettes and speedy balances in multiple positions.

After frappés comes rond de jambe en l’air.  This step creates lengthening as the leg bends and stretches using resistance and different textures of movement.  It is also important that the supporting leg stays stable through the whole combination.  These sequences can also include steps such as fondus, développés, passés and fouettés.

If the teacher desires, students can do an adagio at the barre at this time.

Grand battement is the last combination at the barre.  It establishes force and ballistic movement texture.  Other steps during grand battements can be pirouettes, fouettés, développés and passés.

Summary

Below is the final summary of all the barre combinations and their purposes:

  1. Pliés – bending and jump preparation
  2. Tendus – stretching and articulation
  3. Dégagés – release
  4. Rond de jambe – rotation
  5. Frappés – speed
  6. Fondus – resistance
  7. Rond de jambe en l’air – lengthening and strengthening
  8. Grand battement – force

I hope this post helps you, and I’ll see you on Friday with another one!

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