November 12, 2014 by Nicole
This is part II to “How does a ballet class work?”. Part I focused on what to expect at the barre, and now we’ll take a look on what you can expect in the center.
Center work takes up the remainder of class, and is done either in the center of the room or across the floor. It’s generally a progression of all the things you worked on at the barre, and the combinations can become lengthier with even more movement and upper and lower body coordination (since you now no longer have at least one hand on the barre).
There will be a little bit of flexibility here – some teachers may combine or skip sections. For example, they may prefer going straight to adagio after barre, so they combine the tendu/ plié section with slower adagio movement. So don’t take this as a literal checklist. (The major elements, however, will stay in order….for example, you will probably never do grand allegro right off the barre and then go back to adagio. Just like barre is a progression that readies you for the next exercise, center is intended to function the same way.)
With that said, here’s a heads up of what you probably experience in the center:
Tendus and Pliés
You will often be given a combination that includes tendus and pliés as the initial transition off the barre. This is a great way to “find your legs” (balance) in the center.
Remember, adagio refers to the slow, smooth, controlled movements you’ll be asked to perform. The music will generally also be pretty slow for this section. Adagio is a great time to work on artistry & musicality, and you can focus on matching your movement to the music and “taking up” all the counts/music you’re working with. Movement-wise, you’re probably going to be working on extensions & balances along with slow turning movement.
This section can be approached in a variety of ways. Some teachers like to waltz here (asking dancers to perform combinations across the floor to music with a waltz time signature) or have possibly included pirouettes in other combinations (adagio or the tendu/plié section). But it’s not terribly uncommon (especially for younger or less advanced dancers or in pointe class) to separate them into their own combination. This could also include practicing stationary turns by taking/holding only the preparatory balances.
After turns, you will typically move to jumps. It’s common to begin with a preparatory jumping sequence in place, but not strictly required. Petit allegro is pretty aerobic – even though it’s just “small jumps”, you’re going to be asked to move quickly & precisely. In this part of class, you will be given combinations with jumps, but they may also include quick turns and/or extensions. These combinations may be done in the center, starting from the back of the room or across the floor. It all depends on the choreography the teacher gives.
The penultimate section of a ballet class will usually be grand allegro (colloquially known as “big jumps”). The rest of the class should have prepared you for this moment. These combinations will typically move across the floor and consist of jumps like grande jeté and saut de chat (the “split” leaps).
The last (and very traditional) part of a ballet class is the reverence (“to bow”). It will be a very simple and relatively slow combination, intended as a demonstration of the respect and appreciation for the instructor (and each other) at the end of class. From a traditional standpoint, the reverence also teaches students how to properly bow/curtsey with appropriate lines & presentation for a ballet performance.
Again, depending on the studio, length of class and individual teacher, you may see a slightly modified presentation of this framework, but I wouldn’t imagine a wild swing away from the basic structure.
If you’re still anxious and want more preparation, there’s still books and/or videos you can consult prior to class. Observing the class you want to take may also help you prepare by giving you a sneak peek at the instructor’s style and preferences. But at some point, you need to take the leap – don’t wait until you feel 100% prepared…because that will likely never happen! Butterflies are a good thing! Embrace the unknown & just try it. You might like it.
What’s your favorite center exercise? Do you have a nemesis section? Did you feel prepared for your first ballet class?
Photo courtesy of Lisbet Photography, lisbetstudio.com