Ballet Dancer Training

Passion! Joy! Love! Sweat! Grace! Beauty!
These six simple words summarize the training of a ballet dancer.
Passion keeps a ballet dancer returning to the dance studio day after day through the years of dedicated work. Joy and love are what the dancer reaps with every pirouette (turn) and every plie (bend of knee) because they cannot imagine life without dance. Sweat is both the price paid for their passion and yet another gift granted them by their love the dance. Grace and beauty are the ballet dancer’s mentors and companions, encouraging them and urging them reach new heights.
When a dancer, man or woman, decides to pursue ballet as a career or as a hobby, it is a commitment to strive ever upwards. The title of Balanchine dancer Suzanne Farrell’s autobiography, “Holding Onto the Air,” describes the aesthetic that ballet attains to: light, seemingly effortless despite all the strength and skill required. And so every movement they make in each class must become infused with the fullness of a complete performance.
It takes hard work, sweat, to take one class, two classes, three classes or more for five or six or seven days each week. Their focus is on developing their body, their canvas, and do not sit still while muscle cools and loses itself to idle time. Since ballet dancers love dance, spending a few hours each day in class training and sweating is a simple pleasure and never a chore.
What the dancer does in a ballet class most often follows a standard general form to safely take the dancer from having a cold body, fresh from harried daily life, warm up the complete body, including feet, legs, torso, arms, hands, neck and head, and bring it deep into the experience of ballet by exercises exploring a terre (on the ground), en l’air (in the air), movements standing, stepping, jumping, leaping and turning. Exercises are progressive, starting slowly and gaining speed and intensity as the muscles warm. Exercises are expansive, with movements growing larger and more precise and ornate as the muscles are revitalized with precise movement and ready for ever greater control and demands.
A ballet technique class generally begins at the barre. The barre is, quite simply, a bar of wood or metal, set at approximately hip height, that is fixed to a wall or securely placed on the floor to allow the dancer a stable position to work from. The dancer lightly rests either one or two hands on the barre according to the body arranged perpendicular to the barre or the dancer facing the barre. The placement of the feet as the dancer stands

Beginning movements are small because the body is cold at the start of class. A dancer, like a gymnast, runner, or any other committed athlete, must take care to acclimatize their body to the ir demands by stretching their muscles before testing them with the fastest movement, the highest kicks and the greatest jumps.
Movement at the barre begins with tendu, a movement stretching your foot along the floor until it is pointed, and with plie, a movement where you bend one knee if you are standing on one leg and moving the other or bending two knees if you are standing on two legs.
From tendu, movement progresses to degage (disengaged, where the foot lifts from the floor) to jete (with the foot ‘thrown’ up from the floor) to grand battement (lifting the leg high).
While the feet are working, so is the rest of the body. With each movement of the leg is an appropriate port de bra, or movement of the arms, that matches and complement it. And the body must participate in each exercise. Whether combre (bent) forward, back or side, or simply maintaining erect posture, the torso is never idle, but always dynamic, even when still
After various exercises have been accomplished at the barre, the dancer moves into the center of the room. Beginning, adagio, slow movements, and then on to allegro, brisk movements, the dancer continues warming up the body, now testing balance even more as the security of the barre is left behind. Turns and small jumps are added. Combinations of moves are built to include exercises that cross the floor with larger jumps and turns, the demand upon the instrument of their body growing.
Class concludes with reverance, a bow acknowledging and appreciating the teacher for the guidance and training.
The advanced dancer will also take other, more specialized classes.
Pointe class is for the female ballet dancers who have trained long enough to develop their ankles to the degree that they can wear pointe shoes, the hard, specialized ballet show with a flat front to allow the dancer to balance with the foot fully pointed. This requires both strength and skill and it is a level of expertise that many young girls aspire to reach after watching their first ballet.
Character class trains the dancer in the special style of movements that is used in so many classic ballets and includes folk forms of peasant and noble alike. For class it is danced in a heeled Mary Jane, though for performance the character shoe will match the region of the rest of the costume for the character that is being portrayed.
Partnering class is a special treat for dancers. This is the class where the dancers learn to dance with each other, the men promenading the women, lifting them, carrying them and assisting them in many moves.
There are also specialized classes for turns and for jumps. As these are challenging skills to develop, spending more time on them than is available in a technique class that must cover so many difference techniques and parts of the body is an excellent way to hone these dance features that are so integral to performance.
Ballet dancers may also study other arts to assist their development as complete performers. Pantomime is used in ballets as Giselle and Swan Lake to tell the story of the ballet. Kirov trained ballet dancers study music as an adjunct to leaning the musicality of the body. Costuming, makeup, set design and lighting are all subjects that can aid the dancer to enter deeper into their art.
Beyond class is the training of performance. The demands of a full length ballet are intense. The amount of dance that performers execute exceeds the demands of any single class. On stage the performer must give their all at every instant they are on stage, whether the mover is small and controlled or fast and powerful. The performance challenges the dancer’s stamina and focus. In class, the teacher will call out the exercise to perform and perhaps demonstrate it; on stage it is all left to your own memory to maintain illusion that the audience perceives as the dance unfolds. Even when the dancer is not dancing on stage, if they audience can still see the dancer, the dancer must maintain the character and demeanor of the role they are performing. Yet another demand upon the dancer’s concentration and stamina.
Beyond the dance studio the dancer will often work out at a gym to supplement what the class provides them with added strength training. For the male ballet dancer to lift his female partner he need to develop the strength to raise her weight effortlessly over his head and lower her with slow control so the illusion of her flight is seamless and spellbinding. For the female ballet dance, the strength and stamina to perform battu, beating one foot against the other, and other demanding moves can be developed with the help of the equipment.
The accomplished ballet dancer has developed strength, flexibility, control, precision and stamina. To lift one leg straight up while balancing en pointe, to do 64 pirouettes consecutively, to leap, fouette (whip the body around) and land secure and steady all require dedication, focus and endless repetition to perfect and provide the audience with the illusion that all is simple, easy, effortless.
This is the training of a ballet dancer!