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Point those toes. Ballet barre exercises are a set of movements performed at a handrail, usually as part of the warm up to a ballet class. The routines are intended to prepare the body and enable the dancer to practise steps before applying them to the centre portion of the class. They are slow, precise movements such as bending and raising the body, leg rotations and stretching the legs and torso.
Picture a scene from a dance film and chances are the image of a beautiful dancer practising her pliés against a barre will pop into your mind. And for good reason; barre work forms the foundation for a dancer’s strength, body placement and flexibility. It is an essential section of every ballet class, especially at beginner level, and some teachers may even spend up to an hour focusing purely on this skill.
After stretching, you’ll move to either a permanent (attached to a wall) or portable (a handrail mounted on a rigid support structure) barre and complete a series of slow, controlled movements to music, concentrating on balance and alignment. Sample exercises include pliés, tendus and frappés (unfortunately not the caramel cream kind).
Barre work is now also being practised outside of the confines of the ballet class. Due to its insistence on core strength and flexibility, those already well versed in yoga and Pilates have now also taken it on. Practitioners claim that adding barre exercises to your workout can lead to long, lean, toned muscles – in other words, the Mecca of fantastic physiques. Barre work in this form may be faster and set to upbeat music, or the moves may even be taken away from the barre and applied to the mat or Pilates machines. Treat it like a yoga class - slip off your socks and prepare to stretch your limbs in ways you’d never imagined possible.
Traditional barre work is slow and repetitive, and many dancers find it an arduous part of their class. However, whether you’re a beginner just dipping your pointed toes into the ballet waters, or a fully-fledged pro looking to perfect your technique, barre work is an essential part of your training.
Now that barre work is branching out into other fitness areas it’s also perfect for those who crave that dancers’ body without the endless hours of training. Those who have always liked the idea of ballet may love the more relaxed feel of these classes (i.e minus the leotards and painful slippers) and seasoned yoga and Pilates goers may find that adding this new dance conditioning class could break a plateau and freshen up a monotonous weekly routine. Either way, it’s set to transform your body and give you great results, so why not give it a go?
Barre work has been a staple part of ballet since its origin during the Renaissance. If it’s lasted this long, it has to be worth it, right?