The Barre Pianist: A special tie between ballet and music

ballet and music

“And if the music is good, you dance.”

Lorel Leal was a farm girl who has grown up to become a ballet accompanist extraordinaire. She is dedicated to leaving the studio a happier and more pleasant place through her music. By playing “fun” and unusual songs as well as classical favorites, Lorel can bring a smile to each dancer and teacher in the ballet studio.

She began playing piano as a young girl and completed a B.F.A. in Performing Arts. Immediately following graduation, Lorel secured a ballet accompanist job with the professional division of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. After a steep learning curve, many tears, years of playing for senior-level classes, Lorel gravitated towards the ballet studio. She moved to Calgary and has been finessing her ballet accompaniment skills by playing for the Alberta Ballet Company as well as the Alberta Ballet School ever since.

Lorel is sharing what she has learned through The Barre Pianist. She created the was created for ballet and music teacher professional development. The blog works to bridge the gap between musician and ballet teacher.

In her blog post titled Rough Beginnings and Special Times: The Life of a Ballet Accompanist, she takes her reader back to the first ballet classes she played for. The journey of learning to accompany ballet classes plus, much more recently, working with ballet teachers, privately, to explain music accents to them has led her to the place she is today; wanting to explain music, it accents and teaches ballet teachers how to use it efficiently.

She explains this difference more in her post Dancer Counts vs Musician Counts: Basic Music Theory for Dance Teachers, dancer counts are based on the feeling of the pulse. If a piece of music has a lot of notes, then you feel a pulse in it and that strong pulse is your dancer count. In between your dancer counts is the filler that is either counted as an “&” or “& a”. When you choreograph, you choreograph in sets of eight dancer counts plus the filler between them. The musician uses the ‘&’s as well, but they use them as “counts” or beats. She says that, “Accompanists generally couldn’t care less how the music is phrased as far as phrases of dancer counts when we’re playing for pleasure. Whether the music is 8 dancer counts or 16 dancer counts or 32 dancer counts, it actually doesn’t matter to us as musicians at all outside the studio. Once we’re playing for you, we switch our thinking from ‘hmm, this is a nice waltz’ to, ‘perfect, it’s 32 bars long, it’s square’. That should work! I’m just going to double-check the phrasing in it… yup, phrases of 8 bars, that’ll do.”

Sounds complicated? We agree. But that’s why skilled accompanists are key in the Alberta Ballet School ballet studios. These are not just piano players – they are experts in playing for ballet. The Alberta Ballet School is pleased to have an accompanist for all of our ballet classes from 3 years old, to adult!

Sometimes, this is a student’s first time seeing or even hearing a live instrument in a ballet class so it can be exciting as well as overwhelming. By doing this, we hope to bring together dancers and musicians who both share the same love of creating art together.

To learn more about our ballet classes in Calgary and Edmonton, visit us on our website!