Written by Tristan Grannum:
Ever wondered what it’s like to take a professional Company Ballet Class? What we feel and endure physically and mentally?
A normal rehearsal day for a professional ballet dancer usually begins at 9 or 10 in the morning with a Company Ballet Class. Company Class is a daily ritual for most concert dancers. Class is the fuel we need to get through an arduous rehearsal day. It gives us a moment to brush up on our technique, it allows us to test different steps, and prepares us to “get in the zone”. The studio is your home and your colleagues are your closest friends. Each company dancer has a prescribed barre spot - a spot they have individually chosen where they feel most comfortable to take class. Some choose to have a spot near the accompanist, some near a significant other, or many choose a barre spot where they look the most aesthetically pleasing in the studio mirror.
Many dancers before the start of class have a routine that they follow. Depending on the individual, this routine may be comprised of a set of conditioning exercises (planks, pushups, stretching). For other dancers just lying on the floor in their warm-ups, resting while listening to music is their routine. The dancers you share the same barre with are referred to as your “barre buddies.” You build a unique bond with this set of dancers because each person looks at one another throughout class, either trying to figure out the exercise or just a simple facial expression to exude their current emotional state. Throughout the start of barre there are always ‘inside jokes’ among many of the dancers. It could go from someone innocently messing up the combination in front of you, to the director or ballet master/mistress making general comments criticizing the technique of the company. During many of the initial barre exercises many male dancers have push up contests while the director is teaching an exercise. You may also see a female dancer looking in the mirror fixing her hair bun with pins.
Professional ballet dancers have strenuous rehearsal days, and many incur injuries. Injured dancers usually modify a ballet exercise to their current physical ability or may just opt out of doing the entire exercise and stretch. This distinctly contrasts a typical class for a ballet student. As a professional you are allowed to determine which exercises are or are not necessary and beneficial for your body. Usually by the end of barre a majority of the dancers who were wearing warm-ups - booties, sweaters, and sweatpants - are now in a leotard and shorts or tights. Each dancer showcases their individuality through their dance attire - Some dancers follow the classic dance attire style and others go against the norm and wear unconventional dance outfits such as athletic shorts, scarves, or colorful tank tops.
At the start of center several female dancers change from soft ballet shoes into pointe shoes. Again, the decision to wear pointe shoes for center work depends on each individual dancer’s needs that particular day. Center work allows the dancers to move large in a musically dynamic way, akin to how they would dance in a rehearsal. Professional ballet dancers are not as confined to their technique in center work as they are at barre - they are allowed artistic freedom while still presenting a suitable professional level of technique. Dancers usually converse with one another in the back of the room as they wait for their group to do an exercise. There is sense of camraderie in the studio as a fellow dancer executes a step beautifully, and a sense of supportive competition for their colleagues.
Company class usually ends with a grand allegro or a grand pirouette exercise. These exercises bring out the best dancing of every dancer in the company. You see female dancers execute difficult traditional male steps, male dancers jumping with great ballon, and an elevated performance quality from everyone. At the culmination of company class you thank your accompanist and teacher and suddenly you are ready for your rehearsals.