Ballet Foundations: Diving Deeper Into Stability Training

If you’ve ever tried a grand-plie without out holding on to the barre, you’ve probably recognized the (vital!) importance of stability training. Building strength is key to your progress in ballet but developing stability is just as important to make movement fluid, safe, and gracious. Stability is trained to begin with both hands at the barre, then with one hand. Then in the center, and later on demi-pointe. The exercises start out very slow and painful and then, it changes position such as croise, efface, and so on, and eventually, the speed and precision of your exercises increase, as well as the variety of steps for each combination. Acquiring stability goes hand in hand with strengthening your core, increasing the range of your flexibility, turn of the head, neck, and upper body for epaulement and various conditioning exercises.

Daily training is essential to acquire stability

In the Russian training method, it is believed that daily training is required to acquire a pulled up character and stability. Though most of us can’t take a ballet class every day, we can compensate for this by being extremely conscious of our posture. When you’re waiting for the bus, or train, or in the shower. Stand in first position or in demi-pointe and maintain a pull up of the pelvis and a conscious push down of the legs, as though you’re standing on a weighing machine and trying to ‘press’ it to get a large reading on the scale. You can try doing other things while maintaining this strong stability, such as shampooing or doing your port de bras.

To be sufficiently stable we have to learn to be very acutely aware of where our “weight” is. Standing in the first position, the weight has to be placed evenly over both legs. At the barre, you must check if your weight is centered, especially over one leg, thus, you shouldn’t be gripping the barre. We have to be good at knowing when to distribute our weight evenly over two legs or load on one leg. There are many exercises you can try to google/search on youtube to practice this transfer of weight from leg to leg, or from two legs to on and etc. Be very careful to maintain alignment and use maximum turn out at all times. Of course, this transfer of weight and proper distribution of weight is practiced in ballet class in many exercises without us realizing it. Many teachers do this in tendu exercises in the center where you quickly alternate the supporting leg. The key for us here is to grow more sensitive to the acute transfer of weight. How to do it quickly or control the weight placement etc. In the Russian training method, exercises are really slow, allowing students to check and feel their weight. They do a lot of poses towards at 45 degrees towards the barre and away from the barre and back to en face, thus forcing them to shift their weight and maximize their turn out in that process.

Barre work is extremely important. Slow painful exercises are first repeated extensively then identical exercises are done at the center. The muscles are set in for stability and the greater test would perform the same quality at the center. Without the barre, the bodies are required to work harder to find stability and balance. These daily exercises are first done on flat (whole foot) and then proceeded onto center. Later on, maybe after 6 months, half the exercises will be done flat, and the other half will be done on demi-pointe. The same process will be carried on to the center. As the years of training go on, the speed and variations will increase, also incorporating port de bras, epaulement, and poses.

Adagio before allegro

To acquire stability in the fullest way, the Russian training method promotes that adagio training is far more important in early years of ballet training than allegro. It’s suggested that slow execution of proper poses and positions allowing the dancer time to think, check, and feel their body. As dancers develop the right coordination and their muscles fire correctly, they slowly increase the speed of adagio and incorporate allegro. However, that doesn’t mean that allegro is ignored, they do a trampoline-type jump from Level 0 and Level 1. In those, stability is trained as they bounce in the air. Their arms are maintained, neck long, maintenance of alignment, knees, and feet stretched fully.

Demi-pointe training

Eventually, we want to achieve stability on demi-pointe. This will help with turns and all the poses and all the advanced stuff in ballet. In the Russian training method, students are first introduced to a low demi-pointe with the priority of maintaining their maximum turn out. That is because the Russian ballet teachers believe that after learning to be stable on flat (whole foot), the students cannot yet maintain full turnout on demi-pointe. When training, their supporting leg is watched carefully, to ensure that it is bearing the entire weight (of the body) in a strongly stretched and turned out position. Of course, demi-pointe is first trained at the barre, because it is harder to maintain turn out in center and harder to be stable in the body and especially on demi-pointe.

The good news is that, since we are no longer children, our brainpower is much stronger. We can improve our stability by first knowing and understanding the concepts of stability as described here. Then practicing with the help of recording ourselves on video and in front of the mirror. When working on your own, another great tip I’ve learned is not only to look at the physical form in the mirror but also deeply feel the physical sensations of a pulled up assembled body. As adults, we must work intelligently to save time. Plan to do very simple barre exercises at home, and then some center and also incorporate some nice poses and port de bras to develop classical ballet coordination.