Leg Stretches on the Barre
By David Arce
I love walking into a studio where dancers are busy stretching quietly before class or rehearsal. Encourage students to leave conversations outside. When they pass through the studio door, they should enter a quiet and peaceful dance space.
For advanced students, a great way to start the warm-up process is gentle stretching with the leg on the barre in à la seconde. Use this position to find center and test balance over all parts of the foot. Turn the leg gently in and out on the barre, finding rotation in the hips and stretching all the upper and inner thigh muscles. Then, with extreme caution, extend into a gentle side split, leg still on the barre, to improve flexibility. Lean in the opposite direction (toward the supporting toes) and add a flexed foot to find a stretch in both calf muscles.
Remind students that this is a pre-warm-up activity. Leg stretches on the barre should never be used to find maximum range of motion until the body is properly warmed up.
When stretching the leg in devant on the barre, it’s helpful to think of keeping the supporting hip as close to the barre as possible and the working hip perpendicular to the barre. As dancers transition in devant from attitude to a fully extended leg, to relevé, to stretching the split, they must concentrate on keeping the legs crossed. The stretch should be felt equally in the supporting hip and the working inner thigh. Make sure students don’t add stress to the supporting knee by not pulling up or by leaving too much weight in the heel.
Be sure to check the technique of stretches at the barre frequently. With stretches, as with anything in ballet technique, bad habits are easy to acquire and very difficult to remove.
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.