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Barre Class 101--Part II: Basic Positions And Other Technique Tips

You don’t need to be a dancer to take Barre Class. It is, however, helpful to know some of the positions we often use and the technique involved in the movements. Most of the positions are based on traditional, but don't worry about making them ballet-y!

First position or Pilates V In this position, the heels are together and the toes are apart, creating a V-shape. It's super important to remember that external rotation, or "turn out", comes from the top of the thigh bone. If you have hyperextension in the knee joint, you may not be able to bring the heels together comfortably, so in that case, some place along the inner leg needs to touch.

Second position While turned out (external rotation) the feet are apart, wider than your outer hip distance. In classical ballet we are told that the heels are about 1 1/2 feet apart, but that isn't necessary here. The important thing is that the weight is distributed equally between the feet. A line drawn from your pubic bone to the floor should fall right between the heels.

Third Position The heel of the front leg nestled into the inner arch of the back leg while both legs are externally rotated. The rotation of the hips makes space for the weight to be distributed equally between the two feet. You can be in third position with the right leg in front or with the left foot in front. Remember to "zipper up" the legs so that the pelvis can be upright.

Fourth Position For barre, and for those of us who are not trained classical dancers, I would describe Fourth Position as there being space between the feet in Third Position. You are actively crossing the legs over and thighbones are externally rotated. And like in Third Position, either leg could be your front leg.

Forced Arch When you roll through the feet you pass through the Forced Arch position. You find that position by lifting the heels as the same time as you bend the knees. Funny side note: for years I had students who thought I was saying "fourth arch". They got the arch part but kept wondering why I kept mentioning fourth position.

First Position, Releve I use this position quite a bit, both in warm up in the center, and at the barre. It's your ballet First Position with the heels lifted (releve) and touching. If your heels cannot touch anatomically, something along your inner leg should be together. Think more about lifting into a medium heeled shoe rather than a stiletto.

A few other helpful tips:

  • The biggest rule of safety in technique, and was constantly stated above, rotation comes from the hip. The thighbones are outwardly rotated and the rest of the leg line follows appropriately. Never force the toes apart by twisting in the knee or ankle--this will lead to all sorts of issues. A comfortable 45 degree angle at the heels is perfectly fine for barre fitness.

  • The difference between a fitness squat and a plie: A squat is a movement in which the pelvis tilts forward (anterior tilt) when the hips, knees, and ankles bend. A plie is a similar movement, except you are turned out, and the shoulders and the pelvis stay in vertical alignment, as if you are sliding down a wall.

  • For my usual barre class, the height of the barre is approximately 36" from the ground. Since we do not have barres yet, will be using chairs, like we do in our virtual barre class, the height will be however tall the chairs are.

  • While standing at the barre, your barre hand is resting on the barre slightly in front of your shoulder. If you travel forward or backward, the hand comes with you and remains slightly in front of your shoulder.

  • Speaking of the barre...remember that the barre is there to aid in your balance--you never grip it to hold you upright. Rest your hand lightly. You should be able to take your hand off the barre without it effecting your balance.

  • Much of the time you are keeping your hips still while your legs are moving. Some of the time, however, you are moving your hip position while the legs move. You will start to learn the difference between the two movement patterns.

  • Keep checking in with your body. Modify what you need. In this case of using chairs as barres, you will need need to be situation in between other people and can easily make the movement smaller, do fewer repetitions, or employ a smaller range of motion.

Stay tuned for Barre Class 101--Part III: Stepping Into The Studio.

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