Ballet Basics: The Structure of a Typical Ballet Class
You just signed up for your very first ballet class! You’re so excited but also nervous because you don’t know anything! What exercises do you do in ballet class? How will I know any of the steps??
No need to worry! This blog post will detail everything about the structure of a typical ballet class so you know what to expect!
Good news: the structure of a ballet class will almost always be the same anywhere you go, whether you are a seasoned professional dancer, or a beginner stepping into the studio for the first time.
A typical ballet class is divided into two sections: Barre and Centre, consisting of Adage, Pirouettes and Allegro. Ballet class always finishes with Reverence.
Ballet class is progressive. In the beginning of class, dancers will start off learning smaller, more basic steps and movements at a slower tempo. As class progresses, the steps will gradually become faster and bigger, incorporating the entire body and moving across the whole studio space by the end of class.
Every dancer will start ballet class at the barre. Dancers use the barre for assistance and to support their body while performing small exercises. Beginners may start using the barre with two hands (facing the barre). Most barre exercises will be performed facing sideways with one hand on the barre. Exercises at the barre are done one leg at a time and repeated twice to exercise both legs.
Although many dancers complain that barre work may be mundane and boring, Barre is an essential part of ballet class. Exercises at the barre prepare the body for exercises in Centre (without the barre). Barre work helps to establish body and weight placement, build strength and stamina, and refine the basics of your technique to use for more difficult steps later in class.
TIP: Do not think of Barre as a warm-up. Barre is not a skippable or optional part of class! Dancers should already be warmed-up before starting ballet class at the barre. Although the core of Barre is about warming up and preparing the body for exercises in Centre, barre work is time where dancers are able to go back to the ABC’s of ballet, an opportunity to improve technique to carry forward for performing on stage or preparing for an exam or audition. Every step and exercise at the barre is foundation for steps and movements in centre. For example, plies are used to push off the floor for jumps. Retire Passe balance is your pirouette position. To become a successful dancer, approach barre as seriously as centre work! Always strive to improve your barre work and you will see rapid improvement in your dancing overall.
Barre exercises include the following (in order!):
Battement Tendu, Battement Glisse
Ronde de Jambe (a Terre)
Battement Frappe and Petit Battement
Developpes and Adage work
After Barre, dancers move into the middle of the studio for Centre work. Centre work is done without the assistance of the barre. Many of the centre exercises are similar to those done at the barre. This gives dancers time to find their balance and placement on their own. Exercises will gradually become more dynamic and incorporate larger full-body movement as class progresses in Centre.
Some beginning Centre exercises include:
Port de Bras
Tendu and Grande Battement
Adapted from the musical direction adagio, Adage is a combination of flowing, graceful movements performed to a slow tempo. Adage steps can include developpe, promenade, and arabesque. Adage aims to help dancers focus on their extension, balance, control and musicality. As many of the Adage steps feature lifting the leg off the floor, dancers concentrate on the visual lines the body forms when hitting a position.
Pirouettes and Waltz
With the body sufficiently active from Barre and some centre work, dancers are ready to move across the floor with waltzes and pirouettes. These combinations are performed at a slightly faster tempo than Adage and feature steps like pirouettes en dehors, pirouettes en dedans, balance, waltz steps and pas de bourree. Dancers mainly focus on their pirouettes – turns on one leg in different directions – in these exercises.
The Allegro portion of class introduces faster, lively movements such as jumps and other turns. Petit Allegro, the first allegro exercise, will start off with small jumps in place. Some small Petit Allegro jumps include saute, changement, assemble, jete and so on.
Again, each allegro exercise will slowly become bigger, until the final exercise, Grand Allegro. Grand Allegro consists of big jumps across the floor and fast movements. Grand jete, saut de chat, and tour jete are some examples of Grand Allegro steps.
In more advanced ballet classes, dancers will perform Coda exercises after Grande Allegro such as fouette turns for women, and tours en l’air and manege for men.
Ballet class will conclude with Reverence. Performed to slower Adage-like music, this final combination is a series of bows or courtesies to give thanks to the instructor, other dancers and accompanist (if your class has one!). Reverence is a way of celebrating ballet’s traditions, elegance and giving respect to your teacher and peers for the dance.
You made it through ballet class! Now you know what to expect from almost every ballet class you sign up for.