I want to talk about ballet training beyond the barre. Of course the barre is where it all starts, but it cannot end there for many reasons. First because doing barre is not dancing, it's a preparation for dance, but many dancers get stuck there, in a fixation on perfection and perfecting technique. Second, because in fact, just using barre work to train the body is no longer enough. This may be controversial still for some teachers. So I want to spend some time explaining why I've come to this view.
The exercises ballet dancers perform at the barre are a series of very specific movements, shapes, and coordinated sequences that form the lexicon of classical ballet choreography. They include a kinetic and verbal vocabulary requiring flexibility and strength in extreme external rotation as the impetus for every single gesture. If performed correctly, this builds a body that contains a great deal of kinetic power in the implicit coil of the spiral called turnout.
Training is all too often aesthetically driven, not anatomically nor kinaesthetically driven. This means dancers are trying to make themselves look right without reference to whether something feels right, or without a reality-based accurate view of their physiology. Herein lies the root of most future problems.
At the very least, training beyond the barre informs dancers intellectually and experientially about their physical anatomy - how it works based on functional reality and not aesthetic ideals. Paradoxically, when the body is functioning optimally, movements are always balanced and graceful. In other words, an optimally functioning body is beautiful.
When a dancer becomes overly preoccupied with their appearance in a mirror, breadth and depth of sensation is muted in favor of heightened visual feedback. This visual preoccupation, because its focus is so narrow, is often completely distorted, producing a negative feedback loop. Force of will used to accomplish a desired line creates tension, which interrupts freedom of movement. The result is a dancer working against themselves, which can be likened to when the immune system begins to attack the body. For more on this subject, check out my colleague, Monika Volkmar's excellent site www.danceproject.ca) To be continued......