FLOOR BARRE FITNESS: dance-inspired conditioning

Taking inspiration from ballet conditioning, Joanna Nicholas reveals how incorporating floor barre techniques into your classes can deliver a host of physiological benefits to every participant.

 

During my teens I fell in love with the clean, pure lines and amazing shapes the body can achieve using ballet. Subsequently, as a conscientious ballet student I was eager to perfect my technique, so started taking floor barre dance conditioning classes. While participating in as many ballet classes as my student budget could allow, I was also studying health and exercise science at the University of Western Australia, where I developed an incredible passion for the body and how we move. I started to apply my newfound knowledge to ballet and dance conditioning, and soon began instructing group and one-on-one dance conditioning classes in dance schools.

Over the years I have discovered that most dance conditioning classes use principles from floor barre. Traditionally a conditioning class performed as part of a dancers’ schedule, floor barre is designed to increase flexibility, coordination, strength and control, and improve technique (including turn out of the hips) and alignment. An injured dancer can also maintain technique and their amazing physique while injured by participating in floor barre classes.

Floor barre exercises are performed on the floor and are based around typical ballet-type movements, such as the retiré with arms in fourth position (photos 1 & 2). Movements are performed supine, lying on the side, prone and seated and are often sequenced together to form a short routine. Floor barre classes cover a range of strengthening and stretching exercises working through the sagittal, frontal and transverse plane. Participants will often transition between supine, side lying and prone during a sequence adding flow and variety.

For dance, for fitness

Floor barre emerged in the 1950s, and since this time a number of individuals have founded their own unique floor barre techniques. Among the most well-known are Boris Knieseff (1950s); Zena Rommett Floor Barre, which was developed in 1968 and is still being taught internationally; Maria Fay technique, developed in the 1960s and still taught internationally by Christina Beskou; Homer Bryant techniques; and the New York City Ballet Workout.

As a dancer I have experienced many dance conditioning classes around the world, including a variety of standing barre classes and classes using numerous pieces of equipment. I have always been drawn back, however, to the purity of floor barre techniques that use minimal or no equipment, and that require conscious control of the torso and limbs, directing participants’ focus towards placement, alignment and control (e.g. Zena Rommett Floor Barre at Steps on Broadway, New York).

As a fitness professional I have implemented floor barre exercises and sequences with a range of clients including dancers, fitness competitors, footballers, recreational exercisers, and regular gym goers including older adults, all of whom have experienced the benefits. Physiological benefits include improved flexibility, coordination and body awareness, activation of stabilisers and postural muscles, and a long, lean but strong physique.

Applying floor barre to your classes

Floor barre exercises can add variety to almost any muscle conditioning or stretching-style class or workout. For participants or clients that struggle with coordination it’s best to focus on one exercise at a time and, as they become more experienced, to start introducing exercises in sequence with transitions in body position.

The following floor barre exercises and sequence will add variety to your classes. Select a relaxing rhythmical style of music with a speed of less than 128BPM and use every second beat. This sequence incorporates supine and side lying lower body and core conditioning exercises with arm lines (known in ballet as ‘port de bras’). The combination of active dynamic and static stretches will assist in improving flexibility.

Starting position: Supine (feet in first position:
alegs externally rotated toes pointed, arms bras bas). Right leg leads all.

1 x retiré

Arms to fourth (left arm fifth, right arm first)

8 counts

1 x roll onto left side (hold retiré) (photo 2)

Arms fourth (left arm fifth, right arm support)

8 counts

4 x tuck, tuck, up (photo 3)

Arms fourth (left arm fifth, right arm support)

16 counts

Hold développé à la seconde (photo 4)

Use right arm to assist rotate and abduct leg

8 counts

Hold développé à la seconde

Arms to fifth (overhead)

8 counts

Roll supine holding leg up (demi fouetté à la seconde to supine devant)

Arms fifth

8 counts

Hold développé devant (photo 5)

Arms to second, bras bas, hold leg to assist stretch

8 counts

Hold développé devant

Arms to fifth (overhead)

8 counts

Demi rond de jambe en dehor, en l’air

Arms to second, bras bas

8 counts

Reset and side/shuffle across mat if need be

 

16 counts

 

 

96 counts = 3 blocks

Progress to fit 2 blocks of music:

1 x retiré

Arms to fourth (left arm fifth, right arm first)

4 counts

1 x roll onto left side (hold retiré)

Arms fourth (left arm fifth, right arm support)

4 counts

2 x tuck, tuck, up

Arms fourth (left arm fifth, right arm support)

8 counts

Hold développé à la seconde

Use right arm to assist rotate and abduct leg

8 counts

Hold développé à la seconde

Arms to fifth (overhead)

8 counts

Roll supine holding leg up (demi fouetté side à la seconde to supine devant)

Arms fifth

8 counts

Hold développé devant

Arms to second, bras bas, hold leg to assist stretch

8 counts

Hold développé devant

Arms to fifth (overhead)

8 counts

Demi grand rond de jambe en dehor

Arms to second, bras bas

8 counts

 

 

64 counts = 2 blocks

References

Blanshard, R & Metzger-Hirsch, R 2000, New York City Ballet Workout [DVD], Palms pictures, USA
Fay, M 2003, Maria Fay’s Floor Barre, Dance Books Ltd, Hampshire, UK
Grant, G 2008. Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet, BN Publishing, USA
Martins, P 1997, New York City Ballet Workout: Fifty stretches anyone can do for a strong, graceful and sculpted body, Harper Collins Publishers, New York
Minden, E G 2005, The Ballet Companion: A dancer’s guide to the technique, traditions, and joys of ballet, Touchstone, New York

Joanna Nicholas, BSc Human Movement
As a fitness professional, educator, presenter, model and writer with almost a decade’s industry experience, Joanna’s mission is to change lives through inspiring and educating the world to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle. With over 16 years’ dance experience, she has training in classical ballet, contemporary, ballroom, Latin, Spanish, tap, hip hop and aerial. Joanna is passionate about combining dance and fitness to assist clients in achieving their goals. For more information visit www.joanna-nicholas.com or email joanna.net.au@me.com

Share in the finer points of Joanna’s floor barre technique during her WAFIC 2013 session:

• Strength and grace – Floor barre fitness • C2F

For more information, session details and to register online, visit www.waficperth.com.au