What to expect in a ballet class - format and protocol

This morning I took a ballet class at Colorado Ballet in Denver, where I was vacationing, and was reminded of one of the many things I love about ballet: the consistency of classes across the world. No matter where you travel or what language you speak, a dancer can drop in on a ballet class and feel at home. 

Before class dancers arrive early to register, change into ballet attire, including pointe or flat shoes, and gently stretch in the studio. When the instructor arrives, dancers take places spread along the barre.

Barre The instructor calls out or demonstrates combinations that the dancers execute on the right (with the left hand on the barre) and then on the left. Dancers typically turn toward the barre when switching sides. Each combination begins with a preparation and a proper finish, just as would be expected in performance. 

 

Barre usually begins with plies to warm up the legs and get the whole body flowing. It proceeds to small foot exercise such as tendues and dégagés before moving into larger steps, including ron de jambe and fondu. Brisker footwork is practiced with frappé and petite battement before finishing with large leg extensions in developpe and grande battement. Before moving away from the barre, dancers stretch on the barre and/or on the floor. 

In the center the instructor begins with slow combinations called adagio, works up to a faster pace with pirouettes and other turns and finishes with petit allegro (small jumps).

 

Finally, the dancers move across the floor. Often considered the most enjoyable part of class, across-the-floor exercises travel from side to side and around the room, employing combinations of all the elements of the class up to that point. Grand allegro (large jumps) are usually the final element in this last phase of class.  

 

Reverance is a brief return by the dancers to the center of the room, where they perform a series of slow curtsies and bows that serve as a cool-down exercise as well as a demonstration of mutual respect. 

When they are dismissed, dancers often clap for the instructor and then approach him/her one by one to curtsy and say "thank you." This is a mutual sign of respect and appreciation between the instructor and each student. 


With the exception of the instructor, who calls out combinations of steps and offers corrections to students, there is no talking in a ballet class. Much like a moving meditation, dancers focus inwardly on their bodies and outwardly on the instruction, doing their best to respect their fellow students' space and time, and incorporate the teacher's comments.

There's both a solitude and a sense of community in a ballet class, where everyone moves together without words. 

Marin Rose, Artistic Chair, Board of Trustees