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Short Barre


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Hi Everyone;


My studio recently hired a new teacher. She trained at the Joffrey school. She has a lot of good corrections, but her barre is amazingly short, just plies, tendues, degages, and then ronde de jambes (usually in the center, sometimes at the barre) and grand battement (always in the center). Additionally, most of the exercises are very short, too.


After this she wants everyone to do splits on the floor held for one minute on each side. My problem is that her barre is so short that I don't feel very warm, which isn't good in general, but is particularly a problem for stretching.


I especially don't like to stretch in a split since I have trouble making it all the way to the floor. This means that I have to balance on my hands for a minute during the stretch. Inevitably, I feel like I am sinking lower into the stretch than I should. She has told me that I can do an alternative stretch where I lie on my back and pull my leg towards me. This is better, but I would really prefer to do a barre stretch, which I have found is the most effective stretch for me.


Two questions:

1) Is such a short barre typical?

2) Is it bad form to request to stretch in a different way from what the teacher gives?

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From what you’ve said it sounds like a short barre, but I would hate to say for sure. The classes I take have about a 45 minute barre in a 90 minute class. Having said that, I’d prefer a shorter barre and more time in the center, but that is just me. I know other people who would prefer an even longer barre. Neither modern nor jazz has any barre at all, but certainly the tradition in ballet is to begin at the barre. One ballet teacher I take class from sometimes will do her barre entirely in the center just for variety. I confess a liking to that though it is more difficult.


With regard to being sufficiently warmed up, I think it’s our job as students to be warmed up the second class begins. I know I like to start class just starting to sweat. Granted many people don’t do that, which of course doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t if you want to be warm in class.


In general, I think a teacher has right to do class as he or she sees fit. We as students rely on their knowledge and expertise to give a productive class. We may not like what they do, but usually our preferences just reflect our past experiences and not any profound wisdom on our part. Some teachers don’t mind feedback on their classes from students. Others don’t care what you think. You have to use your best judgment in deciding whether or not to make any requests regarding stretching.


During the stretch, personally, I’d do what the teacher asks, and if I couldn’t, I’d make appropriate modifications. I’m terribly inflexible, so I get to do that frequently and it works well. The important thing in stretching is to stretch the muscle and not necessarily look like all the others in class. If there are special stretches you like to do, I’d do them before or after class.


If despite your efforts to accommodate and adapt you still can’t stand the class, give the teacher the harshest criticism one can give by no longer going to his or her class.

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I've done barre in many modern classes and several jazz classes, it all depends on the teacher.


Fleet, if I know a teacher gives a short barre, I'll usually wear many layers of warm up clothes and warmup way more than I normally would. I do stretch a lot before class even if I know the teacher is going to give a long barre.

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Though I’ve read that some famous modern dancers (e.g., Graham, Humphreys, Limon) did have barre exercises, I’ve never been to either a modern or jazz class that had a barre. And I’m guessing that I’ve taken class from 10-15 different teachers. But that’s just my personal experience. It’s good to know that some modern and jazz teachers really do a barre. I assume, however, that barre in modern or jazz is not nearly as long as it is in ballet. Please correct me if I’m wrong.


The only reason I mentioned barre in modern and jazz is to question the barre in ballet. Yep, I know that is blasphemy on my part. But it seems to me that dancers develop just fine without the bar (though we are not talking about ballet) and I have a sense that for many people the barre becomes something of a crutch. In that sense, it seems to me that having a relatively short barre could be very justifiable in a ballet class.


I know the rationale for a barre is to give minor support while working through the basic movements. I know it is easier to do these basic movements at the barre than in the center. Certainly, it is traditional. But does it really result in an individual making improvement, or even maintaining skill, than if the same movements were made without the barre? Do we do a barre because it is traditional (like grand plies in 4th) rather than truly useful? I know I don’t know.

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Hi FleetFeet,


I probably wouldn't like such a short barre that much either. I really enjoy the barre work too. :wink:


My understanding was that while the time length of the barre should grow shorter the more advanced the class, it should be only shorter in time and not in content. Due to the skill level of the students the exercises can be performed more efficiently, so the barre should still be "full," just shorter in length.


I guess every teacher likes to do things differently though, that's part of what makes dance so fun!

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I don't think so, Gary. I really think that the barre is necessary to both learn and to improve everything one needs to use in the center. In the early years of course it is more about learning, not only the moves but especially how to USE ones rotation, not to mention maintaining alignment and weight placement, use of feet, and developing strength and flexibility.


Following the beginning years, I still think that one not only gets more properly warmed up by using the barre, but also continues to improve line, port de bras, épaulement, placement, etc. While I guess it's possible to do all of this in the center, I still feel that it will be more efficient when done using the barre, assuming of course that the barre is indeed TAUGHT and not just given, as in a warm up.


As you might know from many previous "dissertations" here, while I respect tradition, I am also one of the first to question it and make decisions outside of tradition if I find that there is a problem with that particular tradition, such as grand plié in 4th! :o:wink:


Again, it comes back to HOW things are taught. Some people give basic barre exercises, considering it a warm up. Others know that the exercises must be designed to warm up every muscle group, but that it also should relate to what will be done in the center and teach the MOVEMENT involved, including the upper body, and not just make tendus en croix. Weight changes, use of demi plié, port de bras and épaulement, use of head, varying tempi and different rhythms and musical accents for combinations, and of course varying degrees of difficulty in terms of developing the brain! Dancers also have to be taught to THINK! :wink: If one just does set warm up things, this does not happen. During the intermediate and more advanced years, as the combinations vary more and more in all the ways listed above, the dancers learn way more than one way of doing things. To develop dancers who can work in todays' choreography, they need to be very versatile, and they need to be able to think very quickly and pick up all different kinds of movement. This can all start at the barre, and, I think it should start at the barre.


All of this said, I do not believe in really long barres, but not in super short ones either. I find that it takes me 40 to 45 minutes generally, to do what I feel needs to be done in most classes. The exception to this would be for advanced and professional dancers in a pre-performance class, where one is more concerned with the warm up than in actually teaching, and the corrections will get put aside at that time, which makes it possible to get the barre done in 30 minutes or so.

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Thanks everyone for your comments.


The class has gotten a bit better. We are doing a few more exercise at the barre.


I agree that for an advanced class that the barre should be completed in 45 minutes or less - which we do, but since the teacher is giving a lot of corrections and comments, we only do about three to five exercises in that time.


Also, she has stated several times that the barre is not a warm-up. She seems to be Balachine-influenced, and I know that that was his philosphy.


Naturally, the easy way to deal with this would be to come early and warm up on my own. The problem is that with taking ten hours a week of dance with a demanding full-time job, and a husband and cats, it is hard to arrange to be at the studio earlier. Also, all of the studio rooms are occupied and the rest of the studio is too small and crowded with little kids, parents and teenage dance students, for warmup movements.


Has anyone else dealt successfully with this problem?

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I’m not against tradition at all in ballet (e.g., the old grand plie argument) because it seems that, for better or worse, tradition is a big part of ballet. Part of ballet’s charm is that one is doing movements that have been done for quite a long time.


Nevertheless, I do think it’s worthwhile knowing if one is doing something just because it has always been done that way or if there is a really good reason behind it. Victoria did give a reason for barre that did resonate with me. It was that combinations used in barre are usually longer than those used in center, which does help to develop that kinematic intelligence (i.e., ability to remember the combination) that dancers have. And having the barre for support makes it a little easier to think. I hadn’t thought of that.


With respect to warming up before class when there is no space available to warm up, let me offer this suggestion. On the way to class, walk really fast from home or wherever you park for about 10-15 minutes. Go out of your way to walk up stairs too. Just doing that should raise your core body temperature, which is essentially what it means to warm up. Also be one of the first in the room and do some of your favorite “dancy type” movements (e.g., tendus, foot exercises, easy stretches) in the time you have before class officially begins.


Also, if you happen to live close to where you dance (unlikely I know) warm up at home before leaving. The effects of a good warm-up generally last up to about 15 minutes.

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There are several. Starting with the advisability of grand plié in fourth (I don't like it, and will often work around it) to whether grand pliés are necessary at all (I believe so, but also believe in developing a big squishy demi-plié).

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I like somewhere in the middle myself. I don't like long barres that drag on forever like some kind of endurance contest, particularly living in a very hot climate. I also don't like barres that are long due to the teacher explaining/demonstrating too much or worse, not having the combination firmly in mind ahead of time.


I like a barre that has several tendu and degage combos -- the stretchier the barre, the better for me. Also like doing the same exercise sped up. I enjoy 'tongue twister' exercises too-- the kind that test your musicality and focus, and require a calm upper body while the legs and feet work like mad.


As to set barres, I did this myself when given just one hour to teach a particular class of students. There was no other way to give them a thorough barre in so short a time. We went from exercise to exercise without pause, and with the music running the whole time. They did quite well, actually. A benefit of this is that instead of watching to ensure they remembered the combination, I could really move about from girl to girl, fixing this and that and keeping an eye out for nuances. In fact, the whole class had to be pretty much set with such a short amount of time.


I also walk to and from class, but while that gets 'the juices flowing,' it doesn't really make a difference as to how stretched I feel after barre. It's more of a 'waker upper.'


In such an instance as described above, I would make every effort to arrive 10 minutes early to do some simple foot exercises, and gentle plie/tendu warmups facing the barre.

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