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6 Basic Ballet Exercises to Practice at Home

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Ballet is a complex and physically demanding art form that includes both flexibility and cardio training—that’s why every ballet class, whether it’s a beginners’ course or a company of professional dancers, begins with a warm-up to help prepare the ballet dancers’ bodies.

Ballet dancers can do their warm-up exercises using the ballet barre (a bar along the wall) for balance, or they can do their exercises in the middle of the dance classroom for a more challenging workout. Great ballerinas will also supplement their ballet company’s warm-up exercises with more intensive fitness classes and flexibility training, including pilates and yoga.

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6 Basic Ballet Exercises to Practice at Home

Whether you’re a principal dancer and ballet master or just wanting to keep yourself limber, here are some home ballet exercises to try:

  1. Pliés. Pliés, French for “bend,” are a simple movement in which you bend with your knees without your heels leaving the ground. A basic plié requires only a small bend, while other types like demi pliés and grand pliés involve a half bend or even full (90-degree-angle) bend of your knees. When doing pliés to warm up, it’s best to do them in each ballet position—from first position to second position to fifth—to stretch a wide range of muscles. Pliés are the perfect exercise to begin a ballet warm-up, because they stretch every muscle in the legs, from your glutes to your inner thighs to your ankles. Learn more about doing pliés with our comprehensive guide here.
  2. Elevés and relevés. Elevés and relevés are two movements in which you raise your heels from the floor, rolling up onto the balls of your feet—elevés from one of the five ballet positions, and relevés from a plié position. Elevés and relevés strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves and are a great foundation for pirouettes and work in pointe shoes. Learn more about elevés and relevés in our guiide here.
  3. Tendus. To perform a tendu, French for stretch, begin in either first or fifth position and slowly brush your working foot outward until it rests in a strong point away from you. Then, brush your foot back toward you and bring it back to your starting position. Tendus can be done to the front (devant), to the side (à la seconde), or to the back (derriére), and they stretch leg muscles and help improve turnout (outward rotation of your legs and feet).
  4. Dégagés. Dégagés are a similar movement to a tendu, in which you extend your working foot outward, but for a dégagé, your foot should be slightly off of the floor. Dégagés can be done to the front, to the side, or to the back, and they stretch leg muscles and help improve turnout.
  5. Rond de jambe. A rond de jambe, which literally means “circular movement of the leg,” is done by using your working leg to make a semi-circular movement across the floor, either from your front to your back or vice versa. Rond de jambes stretch your hip muscles and help improve turnout.
  6. Sautés. The sauté is the simplest jumping step in ballet. To do a sauté, begin with a plié, then leap upward so that both feet are in a pointed position in the air. Then, land back in a plié. While sautés are usually done without a ballet barre, barre classes will have students do sautés with the barre to help them get the lift they need to point their toes. Sautés are a great way to engage your leg muscles and practice control in the air.

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Practice ballet with Misty Copeland, the principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to put individual barre techniques together to create powerful performances and introduce artistry to your choreography.

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