How I teach Zena Rommett Floor-Barre
Jodi Moccia’s 8:30 am floor-barre class is filled with a mishmash of early risers—young and old, varying physiques, dancers and nondancers alike. We’re sitting on the floor with legs stretched long and feet flexed, rotating from parallel to first position. “Only from the hips, not at all from the ankles and feet,” she says, leaning in close to watch that I don’t pronate. I return to parallel to start over, slowly rotating from the hips without letting anything below them react. Upon correction, my turnout goes from a deceitful 180 degrees to about 120, the position she says I should be standing in at the barre.
As a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Moccia was introduced to Zena Rommett Floor-Barre by Judith Jamison, who gathered a group of AAADT dancers to take class. “It was immediately clear that Zena was magic,” says Moccia about that first experience. “After I got up from the floor my brain was calm, my base was strong and I was ready to dance.”
That’s because Rommett’s method, with certified alumni here and abroad and at schools like New York University Steinhardt and University of Wisconsin–Madison, is about getting back to the basics. “Everything in the curriculum is based on ballet. What you do at the barre is transferred to the floor,” says Camille Rommett, who took leadership of her mother’s Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Foundation after her death in 2010. “Zena noticed that the minute she put people to work on the floor she could see where they needed corrections in their joints and alignment.”
Transferring ballet to the floor provides anatomical support. For instance, dancers can benefit from a développé while lying down, which allows them to focus on the standing leg, taking stress off the upper body. It also encourages using the inner thigh instead of hiking from the hip flexor. And since it’s not weight-bearing, floor barre is a great technique-oriented solution during injury.
The work also pulls the ego and competition out of training. These are sometimes healthy, but can lead to injury. “Not standing in front of the mirror takes away the visual stimulation,” says Moccia. “Suddenly it’s not about who can get their leg up the highest, but ‘What muscles am I using?’”
Jodi Moccia attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Upon graduation, she studied at The Ailey School and eventually joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (1974–1979). She went on to dance in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and became associate choreographer for Miss Saigon on Broadway. In 2006, she was certified in Zena Rommett Floor-Barre, which she teaches at Dance New Amsterdam and Steps on Broadway.
Meredith Fages dances with Heidi Latsky Dance, Steeledance and Motley Dance in New York City. She has been studying with Moccia for two years.
This Zena Rommett Floor-Barre exercise helps students activate the core and supports correct alignment. It also works on leg extension and hip rotation, without overworking the hip flexors.
photography by Kyle Froman