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 out with an exercise called plies, which is needed to warm up the large muscles of the leg and increase muscle flexibility. As with almost all of the other exercises that use the barre, plies provide a foundation, and develop the support and balance needed for the more complex 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 strategy commonly known as a “wide-beat,” implying that the sound of the base consumes all of the space available for the downbeat plus some extra on each side. To paraphrase, the notes of the base are played a bit early and linger a little past their usual release point.
The purpose of this playing method is to create a restrained feel, which goes along with the muscle opposition which the dancers are creating and also keeps the tempo restrained and controlled and eliminates any inclination the dancers may have to rush. The wide-beat effect can be attained in a considerable number of ways. For instance, the base octaves can be played with arpeggiation by anticipating the beat with a grace note.
It’s also effective when playing a plie exercise for ballet class to use a conversational phrasing that pushes and pulls rather than staying ina strict tempo. This gives the impression the music is repeating a comment, and by adding and varying the material it gives a particularly effective directional sense and expansion 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.