How a Ballet Class Works

Your first ballet class can be confusing and overwhelming, but knowing what to expect is half the battle. Here’s an inside look at the breakdown of a typical ballet class to calm your nerves and help make it a more positive experience.

Warm Up

This is the one part of class that varies widely from studio to studio. For beginners, warm ups are usually led by the instructor and are designed to accommodate those unused to the contortions and stress of classical ballet. Sometimes, however, structured warm ups are not factored into class time and are left instead to the student’s discretion.

If you aren’t sure whether your class has an official warm up, take the time before class to prepare on your own by doing some light stretches. If there ends up being a structured warm up, you’ll be extra prepared, and if not, you’ll be ready to move right into barre.


Class always commences with exercises performed at the barre—the waist-high wooden support used to steady dancers. In a 90 minute class, barre is typically 45 minutes (sharing the time equally with center work).

Barre work starts slowly with warm-up exercises, like plies and tendus, and builds to include basic ballet movements, light allegro work, adagios, and finally sharp allegro and grande allegro movements such as frappé and grande battements.

All exercises performed at the barre are considered preparation for those performed later in the center.

Hot Tip: Remember the Water

Many instructors allow a small break between barre and center to give students a chance to relax and grab a drink of water. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle to class so you can take advantage of the brief respite!


Center work takes up the remainder of class, lasting approximately 45 minutes during a 90 minute session. It is usually divided into the following sections:

Tendus and Pliés

The first exercise in the center is almost always a combination of tendus and pliés. These help the dancer stay warm and aligned for continued work off the barre. The combinations are designed to practice the shifting of weight from one leg to the other and between one leg and two, so that the dancer may find her balance.


Next follows adagio, in which the dancer performs slow, controlled movements. Music for this section is fairly slow, with an emphasis on smoothness and control as the dancer performs extensions, balances, and slow turns.


Though some teachers integrate pirouettes into other combinations, it is more common to have them separated into a specific group of exercises. Practicing stationary turns comes after beginners have mastered other fundamentals, but preparatory balances and other exercises are frequently used as well. For example, a pirouette is prepared for by practicing balances in passé, the position in which the dancer will turn.

Petit Allegro

The next section usually consists of small, light jumps performed in place. Through petit allegro, the dancer will learn to move her feet quickly and sharply, utilizing barre exercises like frappés to achieve precision in her movements.


This section of class varies between studios, but usually consists of a combination of jumps, turns, and extensions. The turns across the floor are often used in conjunction with jumps that travel without requiring preparatory steps, such as the sissonne.

Grande Allegro

Usually the final section of technique in a class, grande allegro consists of the biggest kinds of jumps and turns, like the mid-air split leap (known also as a grande jeté). These combinations are designed give the dancer a feel for traveling the length of the stage using only ballet movement.


Reverence, meaning “to bow,” is a slow and very simple combination of movements (arranged at the teacher’s discretion) designed for the students to show their respect and appreciation for their instructor at the end of class.

Additionally, reverence teaches dancers to bow and curtsy properly when performing by elucidating correct form and aesthetic presentation. This is a vital component of class as it displays the graciousness and humility expected from any ballerina—from the prima principle to the beginner dancer from down the street.


Walking into your first ballet class can be daunting and intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. But if you remember these basics, you’ll enter the studio prepared, warmed up, and ready to roll (or leap, as the case may be).

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