Barre work is the most important part of ballet class. The barre is where you learn to stand, move, and think like a dancer. Without the support of the barre, a student’s alignment, technique, and confidence are tested. You can build a solid foundation by following these six essential guidelines for proper posture, all of which start at the barre.
1. Let your hand rest on the barre, not grip it.
You don’t want to leave too much space between your body and the barre. Fully extending the arm creates a gap that compromises your posture. Neither should you stand too close to the barre, as this inevitably leads to leaning on it and encourages inappropriate dependence. Let your hand rest on the barre slightly in front of you, your elbow gently bent. Never, ever, grip the barre.
2. Lengthen your spine.
It should go without saying, but here’s a reminder—stand up straight. Habitually hunching your shoulders can lead to lower back and neck pain, and surprise, it doesn’t look pretty. Start by keeping your chin level with the floor. Then, correct rounded shoulders by lifting them up and behind the ears, and releasing them. A good rule of thumb is to pretend there is a string attached to the top of your head that is pulling you towards the ceiling.
3. Soften your plié.
Don’t rush your plié. Students who snap quickly in and out of this step sacrifice their posture with floppy arms, bending forward from the waist, and letting their butt stick out. When preparing to do a plié, slightly raise your arm, soften the elbow, and slowly bend the knees. Gaining control of your plié will help you control your upper body. Be careful, however, not to make your arm movements flowery with flicking wrists. You want to develop grace and poise, not come across sloppy or overly animated.
4. Keep your elbow up.
Nothing kills grace and poise like a sagging chicken wing. Avoid this trap by keeping your elbow up and at an angle. This does not mean lifting your shoulder blade, however. Instead, try this: Standing tall with your shoulders down, open your arms to second position. Now, imagine a drop of water is rolling down from your shoulder, past your elbow, and falling off the tip of your thumb. The water droplet’s journey from your shoulder to your thumb should be one continuous line. If your elbow is angled down towards your hip, the droplet will never stay on your arm, and you will lose your port de bras.
5. Hone your port de bras.
What is port de bras you ask? You do it constantly. Port de bras is the way you carry your arms through a step or combination. Unfortunately, some students tend to slack in this area. Maintain proper posture by transitioning correctly through port de bras; avoid swiping the arm up. As you pass through first position arms, imagine you are holding a beach ball, the elbow gently bent. Remember, this isn’t Riverdance—your arm movements are just as important as your leg movements.
These are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when practicing technique at the barre. Granted, it’s not always easy, especially for beginners, but with a little self-awareness and effort, you can master proper posture.