Getty Images

10 Pro Tips for Creating Your Own Backstage Warm-Up

Nutcracker season is officially upon us, which means the ballet world is swept up in a tizzy of rehearsals, double-show days and winter magic (just the way we like it!). Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, dancers have to make smart decisions about warming up—especially between matinee and evening shows. While companies often provide warm-up class, you never know when the unexpected might hit, and it's important to understand how to craft your own.

To help, we caught up with Miami City Ballet corps member Julia Cinquemani, and ballet master Steven Annegarn of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to get expert advice on how to create a personalized warm-up barre. Check out their tips below.


1. Take inspiration from your favorite classes.

"If you're taking class and you find a combination you like that also warms up the parts of your body you need, write it down so you don't forget it," Cinquemani says. "Over time you'll create a list of combinations you know work for you, and you won't leave anything out. You'll have a full class to pull from!"

2. Give your body what it's asking for, not just what's ritual.

"Creating your own warm-up barre means you can listen to your body and personalize it," Annegarn says. "Don't spend time doing something your body doesn't need. If it's the second performance of the day, you're probably really tired. Don't waste your time and energy doing the same full barre you did earlier that morning."

A ballerina warms up at a barre backstage.

Julia Cinquemani gives herself barre backstage.

Damian Zamorano, Courtesy Julia Cinquemani.

3. Combine combinations to save time..

"I do a shortened version of a full barre, but I don't like to leave any combinations out," Cinquemani says. "One way to condense a barre is to combine different types of combinations in one."

Needing inspiration for how to do this? Here's an example of the combinations Cinquemani puts in her warm-up barre:

  • Pliés
  • 2 tendu combinations that incorporate plié
  • Dégagé with piqué
  • Fondu with pas de cheval
  • Rond de jambe with temps lié
  • Fast rond de jambe à terre
  • Leg swings
  • Grand battement with développé

Don't forget to incorporate port de bras and cambré throughout. "It's just as important to warm up your back and upper body as it is to warm up your legs."

4. Shape your warm-up around the specific role you're performing that day.

"I tailor what I do around what I am dancing," Cinquemani says. "If I have to do a lot of jumping in the performance, I'll get out there (after doing barre) when the stage is open and do my changements and one-legged jumps. You have to warm your body up properly for whatever it is you're about to do."

5. That said, don't slack off if it's not a major performance for you.

"Get your whole body warm," says Annegarn. "Even if it isn't a big role, it's not good to go onstage when you aren't physically prepared. Injuries happen when you're not warm."

6. Take it slow.

"Work slowly—you don't want to pull anything," Cinquemani says. She does this by gradually increasing the pacing of her steps as her body warms.

A close up photo of a ballerina changing her pointe shoes backstage.

Getty Images

7. Get your heart rate up.

"It's important to get your heart rate up rather than just make positions," Annegarn says. He recommends beginning your warm-up with something that is comfortable for your body, like light leg swings or sit-ups. "Dancers tend to jump right into stretching because it feels good, but you don't want to do that without proper blood flow."

8. Remember that your warm-up is not a workout.

"Don't get macho," Annegarn says. "I'll often see dancers prepare for big lifting roles like Arabian by doing dozens of push-ups. Don't do that. Fatigue and lactic acid won't help you onstage. A few push-ups might be okay, but this is not the time to work out."

A male and female ballet dancer pose together onstage. The male , wearing a prince costume, is on his knee holding the waist of the ballerina, who wears a tutu and leans forward toward him on pointe.

Cinquemani and Kenta Shimizu in Los Angeles Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty.

Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy L.A. Ballet

9. Give yourself ample time.

Cinquemani's warm-up is typically about 30 minutes. "It's cold backstage, so I put my warm-ups on (booties and leg warmers) and begin doing my own condensed barre on flat. Once I've finished, I put on my pointe shoes and do relevés on two feet before moving to one foot."

Cinquemani gives herself an extra 15 minutes after finishing her barre to get onstage and do sautés, big jumps, and whatever other steps she needs to practice before the curtain goes up. "Don't leave it to the last minute," she says. "Things always come up—your costume might have issues, or any number of things could go wrong, but if you've given yourself ample time to prepare, you won't have to worry about whether you're warm or not."

10. Don't forget to warm up mentally.

"I visualize exactly how I'm going to execute the steps, and think about corrections I've been given," Cinquemani says. "Half of the success I have out there is because I prepare for it mentally. I often do completely different roles in the matinee than I do in the evening, and I have to get in the right headspace so I don't have any surprises."

Latest Posts


Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

Between vaccines and variants, can students aim for a full calendar of intensive training at local and national summer programs?

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks