A ballet class consists of around fifteen individual exercises. Approximately half them are performed using a balance barre and the remainder are performed in the center of the room. Consequently, the two parts of the ballet class are called barre and center.
Ballet classes start with an exercise called plies, which is used to warm up the muscles of the leg and increase flexibility. As with most of the other exercises performed at the barre, plies supply a foundation, and develop the support and balance that’ll be needed for the tougher exercises.
The music that is used for plies is done at a slow or moderate tempo and is normally very melodic, characterized by a lush, romantic touch that strongly moves toward the ends of the phrases to clearly indicate the changeup points of the exercise.
Plies are played with a technique known as a “wide-beat,” suggesting that the sound of the base consumes all of the space available for the downbeat plus a little extra on each side. In other words, the notes of the base are played a bit beforehand and linger a little past their regular release point.
The object of this playing strategy is to produce a restrained feel, which enhances the muscle opposition that the dancers are experiencing and also keeps the tempo restrained and controlled and removes any inclination the dancers often have to rush. The wide-beat effect can be accomplished in numerous ways. For example, the base octaves can be played with arpeggiation by anticipating the beat with a grace note.
It is also effective while playing a plie exercise for ballet class to utilize a conversational phrasing that pushes and pulls instead of staying in a steady tempo. This gives the impression that the music is repeating a comment, and by adding and varying the material it gives a very effective sense of direction and growth to the music.
This article is presented compliments of Gaylord Pannitron. For an example of plie music you could visit Ballet Class Music and hear free samples composed by composer/pianist/dancer Don Caron from his First Class Album series of ballet class music.