Making the Most of Barre Work
Do your dancers look slow and heavy when they cross the floor with pas de bourrées? Do you wish they could dance more quickly and gracefully? Would you like them to step out and move with a beautifully stretched upper body, straight legs and pointed feet?
The fastest way to achieve these goals is to have your students observe their barre work in the mirror. Place portable barres parallel to the mirrors, and have dancers stand behind them so they can see themselves in the mirror. If you don’t have enough barres for everyone to work this way at the same time, divide the class into alternating groups so that everyone is able to do some of the barre exercises in front of the mirror.
Standing diagonal to the barre, have students face corner two or eight. They will do each exercise with their eyes to the mirror. It is perfectly all right to study themselves in the mirror throughout the exercise because the head is placed over the supporting shoulder. They will be making correct textbook positions: a battement to fourth front is éffacé devant; a battement to fourth back is croisé derrière; a battement in second is écarté derrière. In these positions, the head is always balanced over the supporting shoulder. Students working at the wall barres should look at and follow the movements of the free hand.
Make sure that all students stand at the proper distance from the barre. This is determined by opening the arms to second position and placing the supporting fingers on top of the barre. The supporting arm must always be extended in second position. Never let your students grasp the barre with a bent elbow, and above all, never let them pull on the barre.
Teach your students to “work” the supporting shoulder, arm and hand on the barre. Without losing proper posture and placement, students should be reaching for and pressing down on the barre, which will stretch out the supporting shoulder so that it is always placed over and past the supporting toes. This establishes the correct alignment of the supporting shoulder to the supporting foot—it puts them “on their leg.” And, most of all, your students will learn to correct their own work. (With lots of helpful suggestions from you.)
Students working with the mirror should always be able to see a triangle of space between the barre arm and the supporting side of the body. When they work at the wall barres, they will need to be reminded to keep the proper distance to the barre with the supporting arm extended. Throughout each exercise, be sure that all students are working the barre arm correctly. They should be standing tall with long necks, high chests, broad shoulders and long arms.
When dancers come to the center, they should continue to work their heads, shoulders, arms and hands as they did while doing the barre facing the mirror. This will give them the balance they need so that they can step out with long straight legs and pointed feet. Your earth-bound students will be nimble. They will be able to cover space more easily. And most of all, they will discover newfound joy and develop increased self-esteem. Happy students make you a happy teacher!