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Anatomy of Ballet
The objectives of classical ballet training are two-fold:
- To develop in students the musculature and neuromuscular response necessary for the execution of its steps
- To impart a working knowledge of it's vocabulary so students can carry out choreographic demands. These objectives are met only with rigorous, systematic training in the context of a formalized ballet class over the long term. In the class, exercises and steps are typically performed first at a barre, then in the center, and finally across the floor.
In every ballet class, at the barre the dancer executes a set of exercises in a specific sequence that is based on the logical muscular development and gradual involvement of the entire body. Each exercise not only warms up the muscles employed but systematically prepares the body for the exercise following it. Anna Paskevska in her book Both Sides of the Mirror (1992) observed that taken as a whole, all exercises performed at the barre condition the dancer for all possible movements in the center.
Having the opportunity to perform exercises at a stable support such as the barre, enables the dancer to focus on increasing strength, flexibility, and coordination and the acquisition of new vocabulary.
The dancers diligence at the barre is made manifest when she/he comes to the center. Center work is divided into center barre, adagio, petit allegro and grand allegro exercises. The objective of center barre is to test balance, since dancers perform many of the same steps as those at the barre, however without the support the barre provides. Steps performed in adagio work challenge a dancer's sense of balance, strength, flexibility and muscular control. Petit allegro steps test a dancers speed and precision, while grand allegro steps test everything.
It is only after a dancer has acquired much of the classical vocabulary and has a well developed neuromuscular response to choreographic demands that teachers encourage artistry. Much of the classical vocabulary is extremely technical and leaves very little for artistic interpretation, as a consequence, artistry should be demonstrated with great subtlety.
Why Ballet Instruction is Beneficial to Children
Most teachers recognize that the majority of children enrolled in dance classes do not eventually pursue careers as professional dancers. Despite this, there are several reasons why ballet instruction is beneficial to your child. Some of these benefits are obvious - such as increased coordination, flexibility and anaerobic fitness, and others are not - principally those benefits related to certain cognitive abilities that ballet training develops. Many of the mental skills students must employ in ballet class transfer into other areas of life.
Ballet training teaches children how to delay gratification:
Pupils spend considerable time engaging in repetitious exercises that train the muscles for steps that may not be performed for several years. The progression of ballet training is painstakingly slow, students learn that with hard work, rote repetition of exercises, and consistency, the results will be manifest in the form of well-executed steps, increased fine motor coordination and honed performance skills.
Ballet training exercises children's short-term memory skills:
Although the general organization of every class is similar (first pliês, then tendus, followed by dêgagês, etc.), the sequence of the steps within the prescribed exercises changes with every class. As a consequence, students must pay close attention to what the teacher is saying/demonstrating, and be able to retain the order of steps in short-term memory.
Ballet training exercises children's long-term memory skills:
Because there are many precepts to the technique related to the acquisition of steps and muscular coordination, children must master these precepts in a prescribed sequence and retain them in order to progress through the formal ballet syllabus.
Ballet instruction exercises children's visuospatial and mental rotation skills:
Dancers learn to ascertain spatial relationships on many fronts: their own body positioning, between themselves and other dancers, and among all dancers within the choreographed formations.
Mental rotation skills come into play when students are required to do two things. First of all they must observe a sequence of exercises from several vantage points - directly in front of the teacher (or "model"), from behind, or in the mirror. Secondly, after such observation, students must mentally rotate the model within their own minds and carry out the prescribed exercises with both sides of their body.
Often, if a child demonstrates considerable prowess in muscular coordination on one side of the body but not the other, ballet can correct this asymmetry, because all exercises are carried out on both sides of the body.