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Ballet Barre – faster is definitely not better

“There is no bad movement, there is only movement done badly” – Ron Fletcher – Pilates Master.

I just finished taking a Ballet Barre class locally and came away very frustrated as well as tired. It was a hard class and the exercises were generally good, valuable, hard, fatiguing and doable. Mostly. I took ballet as an adult years ago so I had some experience to fall back on to say nothing of my Pilates experience which teaches AWARENESS and PRECISION. However, in this class there was so much to work on in order to get all the pieces moving together in a coordinated fashion with sacrificing technique.

And when the teacher said ‘And now double time’ – I knew there was no way I could keep it all together so I just kept going at the same pace – mostly. But all of the girls (6 in the class) gamely tried to do the double time. And FAILED – 100% of them. It irritated me that the teacher didn’t look around the room and say, “Wow, they’re not getting it – they look like shit doing this. Maybe I should just go at the old tempo and work on technique”. But no. Choreography is everything so she just kept forging ahead.

“There is no bad movement. There is only movement done badly.” This has been the theme for this week. It is also one of the foundational principles of my teaching.

Pilates is all about getting it right and getting it right at the beginning – as much as possible. True ballet starts with Barre work so the student can get the movement correctly and slowly before starting to move faster so that when the student gets to floor work, they know what they should be doing and where they should feel it and what it should look like. Not so in Ballet Barre.

I know how hard I was working to get it right. It was doable but hard. There was nothing wrong with the exercises, except for the speed and the inability of the students to do them. My rule for teaching is that if more than 85% (or so) can’t do the exercise, there is something wrong with my teaching (communication or demonstration) or there is something wrong with the exercise. Too damn fast!!

At what point will these girls get it right? If they keep coming, will they get strong enough or flexible enough to make the correction? Not if they have been practicing the movement pattern incorrectly, with the wrong muscle. Either make the movement less complex or slow it down so the brain has a chance to learn and catch up.

It’s fine that they all felt tired and worked out (as did I) at the end of class. But wouldn’t it be better if they learned about their bodies as well as worked them? If they learned where turn out came from? If they learned that knee and toe alignment are important for knee health? If they learned where their spine was in these various positions? If they learned how to STABILIZE their spine and core while moving their limbs rather than shaking around like an aspen tree?

This Ballet Barre class was both better than I expected – not too many repetitions, decent variations, good movements and as bad as I expected – lack of technique, lack of correction, too much speed with too little stabilization. I’ll go back – because I know what I need to work on and I am still hoping to get to the splits sometime in my lifetime. But I will only ‘double time’ it when I know that my technique won’t completely fall apart. Because that is how I’ll get better. If I keep repeating a movement badly I will become very proficient at moving badly. Not pretty. And not helpful.