Class Music: Basics, 18 March 2016

Welcome back, dancers! I hope that you all had a great spring break. Today’s class was very small… perhaps everyone is still recovering from Saint Patrick’s Day?  😉

Recently in Ballet Basics we have been working on a very short adage which combines a series of tendus with slow glissades and grand rond de jambs en fondu (big circles on the floor with the support leg “melted”). We’ll be building these same steps into a faster rhythm as the semester progresses, but for now we have been dancing to a short piece from the soundtrack to the 2007 film, Becoming Jane. The piece is called “Advice from a Young Lady” by composer Adrian Johnston, and it is track #8 on the CD.

Our goal in this piece en centre is to take individual skills learned at the barre, such as the tendu and rond de jamb, and put them together as linked elements in choreography. We’ll also continue to work on putting together the motions of the arms (port de bras) and legs, and practice that until it begins to feel more natural.

I look forward to seeing everyone back in Basics next Friday!




Ballet as Fitness: the Barre Fad

I was flipping through the January edition of Better Homes & Gardens magazine, when I stumbled across this article…

Health nut article

It seems that ballet for fitness is catching on everywhere! In Ann Arbor over the weekend, I noticed not one but two new “barre studios” being built in town. Part of me wonders, however, how effective and how safe these fads are.

To be fair – I have never tried one of the barre-for-fitness routines, such as Pure Barre. However, I’ve been hearing a lot about them, and the number one opinion that I hear most is that they are intense with a capital “I” – sweat pouring out, full muscle exhaustion intense. They do not teach dance technique at all to my knowledge, but rather use similar types of motions to engage the muscle groups in a far more athletic and fast-paced environment. To me, this sounds like a recipe for injury – if I work at the barre until my legs are shaking, I would be concerned about losing my balance and possibly collapsing. I wonder, too, if this kind of exercise is actually beneficial to one’s dedication to fitness: if you work yourself to complete and utter exhaustion, how do you then find the energy and inspiration to continue to another day, or another class?

In formal dance training, the dancer uses barre to build skills and perfect technique in preparation for dancing en centre and combining techniques into choreography. The barre is not a weapon of choice, but a tool for supporting the body while allowing it to strengthen of its own accord through the repetition of specific exercises. Many of the exercises are slow: this reflects not only the tempo of the music (such as the adage), but also gives the dancer time to check-in with his or her body and make corrections (often by looking in the studio mirror and checking posture, alignment, foot position, arm height and position, etc). Even though our classes are not the more formal training of a studio program, they share many of the same elements: muscle development and increased fitness through technique, practice, and subtle correction.

As a key element of ballet class, barre is a time to cement the fundamentals, tone the muscles and stretch the body in preparation to dance on the floor, without the help of the barre. I really can’t imagine doing things any other way!

I’m curious to hear other participants’ thoughts on the barre exercise fad – those who have tried it out, what do you think about it?

Technique Spotlight: Glissade

The glissade (“glide”) is a traveling step most often used in allégro pieces. One begins a glissade from a croisé foot position (usually fifth position), performing a plie and then sliding the working foot outward into tendu from the body. The dancer then shifts weight to the working leg, releasing the support leg and bringing both feet back together, which allows the body to travel in a line. Glissades are usually performed with changement, so the feet change as the glissades themselves are stepped (if you start your series of glissades with your right foot, you’ll change from right, to left, to right again). You can very clearly see the changement in this video from the Royal Ballet (UK), wherein the dancer is performing glissades in a row very slowly.

Glissades can be performed moving side-to-side (a la séconde en décoté), on in a diagonal across the floor. They are often seen as an in-between step, used to transition between a small jump such as a sauté changement or assemble or as a traveling motion in-between turns.

One of the most important aspects in performing glissades (and any sliding traveling step) is to keep the feet supple on the floor – much like the tendu, wherein the base of the foot slides against the floor before coming to a point in the toe, the foot performing the glissade should fully brush the floor before pointing. This motion allows flexibility in the foot, which helps to increase speed. We’ve been performing glissades in both Ballet Basics and Intermediate quite slowly, but usually, they are very fast! As speed increases, so does height, making the glissade a little less like a step and more like a jump (as seen in the second half of the video above). Keeping the knees in demi-plié and using the natural bounce of the body – the ballon, as it is called in ballet – also helps maintain speed through the movement and helps to reduce risk of injury by allowing the bent knees to absorb the motion of the body.

In this video featuring dancer and choreographer Maegan Woodin, Ms. Woodin demonstrates the individual steps included in a glissade as well as a good way to practice glissade using the barre for support. If you wish you practice at home and do not have a barre, a strong, sturdy chair may be used to help you balance.

Glissades take a lot of practice to perfect, so make sure to work on them slowly at first to cement your technique. As with the grand pliés and grand battements, it’s best to gain control first – THEN speed! (Or height, or depth…)