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Ballet Talk for Dancers

No barre?


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Today I had my first Beginning Ballet class at my college with a different teacher than I had the first time around. I had heard that she was big on moving slowly and making sure that you can do the technique and was really excited for her class. Now, however, I'm a little bit nervous. We did nothing at all at the barre! We did tendus in the center alternating feet--so front right, front left, repeat; side right, side left, repeat; back right, etc. She did not go into depth explaining how to tendu properly (I still tried to do them as I was taught in my summer classes) but it was a struggle for me to alternate while trying to keep up with the music and found myself getting sloppy just to keep up! She has not addressed proper alignment much but I was more bothered by the lack of barre exercise than anything else. I quite enjoy the methodical nature of the barre exercise. I asked my friend who took this same class last semester and she said that the teacher does use the barre some later on in the semester but not a whole lot. Whatever issues I may have had with my previous teacher here, at least we used the barre on a regular basis, especially in the first month or two.


My question for all of you is, is this as big a deal as I think it is or am I overreacting?



Edited by Sparrow
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Guest Pas de Quoi

Trust your instincts. If it doesn't feel right and you are not totally sold on the teacher's explanation as to why things are done this way ..... you have your answer.

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I would not like a class without a barre. It's my favourite part of class! Although I can imagine that when you do use the barre eventually it may seem easier. I have a hard time with exercises in centre, especially keeping my balance. I would struggle as well.


I don't think you're overreacting. I would feel the same as you.

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From what you say here, this sounds like this particular teacher's approach to teaching beginning ballet students. One of my long-term teachers used to do tis quite regularly - we'd not do a barre but do everything in the centre. It really tests you, and makes you realise how much you rely on the barre. And my contemporary classes never use the barre - we do plies, tendus, battement (or the contemporary versions thereof) all in the centre. I enjoy doing stuff in the centre, because the barre makes me too complacent about my abdominal strength & control. And I need all the help I can get at adage centre practice (I suck at adage, even though I love it!)


And I notice in my current very basic class (the only ones I can get locally) that my very knowledgeable teacher rarely goes into a lot of talking/verbal detail about alignment or technique. The class regularly has adults who have never learned ballet before, and she teaches by having them copy and feel from the inside, rather than talking too much. And we always do a tendu exercise in the centre, just as you describe. It's important preparation for pirouettes and moving from one side/leg to the other in combinations.


So I can understand your teacher's approach here, even if it's unconventional.


As adults, we can choose about how we learn - mostly. If this style doesn't suit you, then can you go to another class or another teacher?


On the other hand, you could approach it in another way - you could say to yourself, "Yes, this approach takes me out of my comfort zone, but what new things can I learn from it?" I do a lot of classes all over the place as I travel a bit in my job (always pack leotard & shoes!) - I've sometimes taken class from a teacher that other people have recommended highly, and haven't quite got what other people have loved. I don't see that as the teacher's issue, but mine - my learning style is just different. But even if it's just one class, I always learn something new, and am grateful for that.

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I had a teacher last (whom I really like, also teach contemporary (but a style you must have done ballet before otherwise you get lost quite easily)), who made us do a barre without the barre every few weeks for a couple of class. It was an "advanced" teen-adult class. I must say that despite being challenging, I quite enjoyed it. The first time was at a rather confortable tempo but as we did the same barre for three classes she increased speed each time. It was challenging but you really learn how to use your core, we use the barre too much... My pirouettes haven't been that good in a class.

After a while you might like it, the first time it can be disturbing (change in the routine, new environnement).

PS my first ballet teacher ever was also more in the feeling with us adult to learn to do things.

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I start all beginners without the barre. I personally experienced that most very beginners are not able to stand and do something with their legs without tripping over. Alignment is something I teach over several classes and takes a while to be halfway understood and accomplished.

When I put students at the barre to early they stand either too close or too far away and then their alignment is even more off than in the center. They often rely on the barre too much because they have not yet figured out how to use it properly.

One hand at the barre brings a lot of issues, so this is something I consider somehwere advanced beginners, it is one step further than the basics. Two hands at the barre can be terrible, especially when there are only barres facing the wall.


You may kindly ask the teacher why she is doing what she is doing and it may help you in your training.

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As others have stated, there are reasons, and pros and cons, to doing exercises at the barre and in the centre.


I like the idea of not talking much and not explaining a whole lot; I am not good at that. I talk a lot.


Personally I feel that barre work is mainly for the supporting leg, (providing one does not hang onto the barre for dear life...) and the hand on the barre is like a "third leg", helping to stabilise you whilst you work both legs away from each other. (I hope that makes sense)

Therefore, as soon as the students are old enough to understand that concept (usually by 10-11 years old... but there are differences) then I have them do things at the barre before going into the centre. (and adult or teen beginners can advance a bit quicker in many respects; but that, too, is individual)

I usually try to repeat the same barre exercises once we get in the centre, though they are not necessarily the same combinations.

Of course, there are time constraints and therefore some /many things get left out during "centre practice", so we can get on to doing things which the students find more enjoyable.


Many but by all means NOT all, dancers who were trained without a barre tend to have less control of turnout in the supporting leg, in my experience.


See if you can get something out of the classes as they are, and work on your own if you feel that you need that extra bit of barre work.

Or not. :)



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Guest Pas de Quoi

For my adult beginners, when at the barre, I prefer they face the barre with two hands for as long as it takes for them to become placed, aligned and stable.

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I love reading these responses. Such an interesting variety of teaching methods. As others have said, this may or may not be the right teacher for you, though I think it's worth trying a couple more classes to get a better sense of it. I do want to add that it is completely normal to feel sloppy and slow and out of place when you're a beginner. Even when you're not a beginner, it's normal to feel that way with a new teacher. She may not be giving you lots of corrections and alignment until after you've memorized the routines. It's not necessarily because she doesn't notice or care.


I'd be curious to hear back how things go if you try a few more classes. Good luck either way.

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I'm a very verbally, writing oriented learner: I learn by reading & writing - and that's my job too! That's partly why I do ballet - it gets my brain into my body. One of my main teachers for a long time preferred us to visualise rather than verbalise - I found it hard, but learnt to develop that aspect of my learning. Her view was that too much explanation hampered us finding the correct way from within our bodies; her emphasis was on getting us to visualise our skeletons from the inside. She had very solid (medically-trained) knowledge of anatomy, so could explain this, but there wasn't too much talking. A lot of doing, and experimenting!

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For my beginners who have never done ballet before at all - I start them in the centre. The same way I start my 5-7yolds in the centre. I feel if there is not enough understanding of weight placement as a beginner then the barre is a hindrance, rather than a help to training. As others have said, over using the barre can be a problem which just has the be fixed later. Learning a demi-plie, a tendu and even a simple grand battement in the centre forces a dancer to understand weight placement and weight transference. Once exercises become more complicated I take students back to the barre, but only after they can understand how to 'stand on their own legs'. I use a combination of one hand and two hands on the barre depending on what I am working on after that.

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Pas de Quoi: Acutally I personally like to make students work with two hands at the barre because it is very useful but sometimes I feel like there are certain disadavantages to it which I try to explain: If the studio has barres that can be moved, they might be moved in a way so that the students do not have to see a blank wall for an extended period of time. They can be placed in front of a mirror or so that students face each other and so on. I feel like, if there are only barres at the wall, there is nothing to concentrate with the eyes on which makes it hard to concentrate and focus. For adults it is easier but for kids it is rather hard. I often saw in kids and adults that they start to turn their heads and as they have not yet figured out how to move their head properly without turning shoulders and torso, they distort their posture.

I try to alternate between one and two hands in the exercises to help them keeping the focus. I did a teacher training seminar with a VBA teacher from the perparatory and first courses and she recommended not to stay too long with two hands to avoid that the kids get bored. This covered with my personal experience in the classroom.

Also certain things simply do not work with two hands at the barre if the barre is too close to the wall (basically in every studio I taught...I don't know who installed the barres!).

So there are pros and cons...

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I'm really enjoying everyone's responses! As with most things in life, it's not quite as simple as me being right or wrong in this. I'm seeing so much diversity in the teaching styles and reasons why you teach in a particular way. I have no experience for that and am absolutely a beginner so I thought I can contribute why, as a new adult ballet student, I prefer barre to no barre. This is completely my own experience and opinion, so it's cool if you feel differently!


For me personally, as a beginning student, I believe that learning how to utilize the barre properly, the proper breakdown of the simplest steps (such as tendus) and progressing at a controlled pace have been the most important building blocks in improving my technique and feeling more confident. With my first teacher (who did a short, hands off barre before center exercise from the beginning) I had a sense that I wasn't getting the steps quite right but didn't know how to fix them and when we'd move into center (where there is so much more to think about!) everything felt worse, like I couldn't do anything right. My classes over summer were only an hour and mostly barre. The first of these teachers would frequently correct me when she saw I was using the barre improperly, which helped when I started with the regular teacher. We only broke the first few techniques down step by step, and the ones after that she would show us how to do and only break it down if she noticed that we needed it during the exercise. After a few weeks I noticed that I was becoming quite good at balancing, and relished in the opportunity to focus my energy completely on my technique. Even though we did only short exercises in center during my summer classes and this was where I felt least comfortable in my first class, I did not feel out of control at this class. The only part I struggled in was keeping up with the alternating tendus (and really couldn't understand why she would jump straight to that combination when the vast majority of students have never taken ballet before). In fact when we did a 'waltz step,' I felt perfectly at ease, even when adding the arms. I also didn't have to worry about my turnout or remembering to point my toes, which was a huge part of my stress in center during my first classes. I attribute this, in part, to having such a barre and technique heavy summer.


I feel good about my ability at the barre, which boosts my confidence when I step away from the barre. By focusing so hard on my technique at the barre, I'm building stronger muscle memory so I am not having to concentrate on every little thing in center. I would be sad to have a semester of class without regular barrework. Beyond the benefits I believe I have seen in my technique, it has become my favorite part of class. I enjoy the ritual of it.


My college is in a very small town and I will not be able to do ballet at all this semester if I don't take this class.


Edit: I talked to my teacher at the dancewear sale today (this town is so small that once at the beginning of the semester they have a dance shop from another city bring in a bunch of stuff to sell) and she said her reasoning is that we will show faster improvement not relying on the barre. Also she only has 50 minutes for class and has to make every minute count. We talked for a while and when I mentioned that I had gotten pretty good at balancing over summer, she told me, "then you don't need the barre!" Without thinking I replied, "I don't *need* the barre; I just like the ritual." I told her I was going to miss it but that I will trust her on this (though I may do a little something by myself in the 5 minutes before class starts).

Edited by Sparrow
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  • 1 month later...

Hey guys, just wanted to give you guys an update on my class.


I am really enjoying this class! I know, shocker. Having to constantly shift weight going between sides in our center tendu or passe exercises has really shown me how much I subconsciously relied on the barre. I have also gotten so much better at my port de bras and feel much more comfortable in center. Now, that being said, I don't know if I would feel the same way if I had not gotten a fairly solid technical foundation this summer. I am refining things and learning to move and put pieces together. Sometimes some of the basic technical parts of a technique don't get explained right away, maybe explained later but maybe not.

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I love Center Barre! Doesn't happen very often but when our instructor announces it I do a silent cheer while the rest of the class quietly grumbles a bit. :P

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