Facing the Barre and Lifted Balances
By David Arce
Beginning a class with students facing the barre in first position is a common practice; I often do this after a long weekend or extended time off. Doing simple, slow tendus, stretches, and even a balance in first or second position with both hands on the barre allows students to internalize their focus and to find their center and “ballet muscles” before starting pliés.
It’s common for students to look down when facing the barre, either because they think it will help to see their feet making first position or because they habitually focus on the ground. Looking down is not only unnecessary; it also disrupts the neck’s alignment. Correct this habit before the exercise begins by having dancers fix the gaze at eye level, close the eyes, then move into first position. They’ll soon realize they can find first with muscle memory and don’t need to look down. Then have them move into first again, this time with eyes open.
I find one constant among students balancing at the barre: those who lift the supporting side and maintain an aligned position achieve longer and more productive balances. Other students try what I call a “gamble balance”: they begin correctly but then release the core and supporting side, and to compensate, make massive adjustments with the torso.
Remind dancers that balance does not happen by chance; success comes through the struggle of work. In my opinion, balance is the ballet dancer’s single most important attribute, because it’s used in every step, pose, and movement. Every balance at the barre is an opportunity to better this skill, and students should always take full advantage of this opportunity by balancing in aligned and lifted positions to the best of their ability.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.