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A barre is a stationary handrail that is used during ballet warm up exercises. The term also refers to the exercises that are performed at the barre, as well as that part of a ballet class that incorporates barre exercises.
The design of a barre—which includes both the handrail and its support mechanism—depends on whether the barre is to be portable or permanently located. A permanent barre typically consists of a handrail that is mounted to and supported by a wall, whereas a portable barre consists of a handrail mounted onto a rigid, free-standing supporting structure. Barre handrails and supports are typically made of metal, wood, or a combination of both. The handrail, which is positioned approximately at waist-height, has a diameter of approximately one and one-half inches.
Barre exercises include both slow exercises, which stretch and warm up muscles, and fast exercises, which help dancers strengthen muscles and maintain technique at any speed. Each barre exercise has a specific purpose, such as to strengthen feet, increase extension, improve flexibility, and help a dancer find their ballon. Proper placement (positions of feet and arms in ballet) and posture is emphasized in all exercises.
The barre helps dancers by providing stability and balance, especially while learning correct placement. Barre exercises are often a significant portion of the beginning dancer's class, but the barre continues to be an important tool in all levels of ballet. Barre work can help to prepare dancers for partnering, with the barre simulating the support of a real partner. Barres are an essential tool for beginning pointe dancers, as their ankles may not be strong enough to support them in the center.