To answer this question, let’s begin with a little experiment: Where ever you are at the moment, take a few steps and find out which leg is your good walking leg and which is your bad walking leg.
It should become obvious in very little time that most likely there is no good or bad walking leg. You might even find it difficult to figure out on which leg you are when you are walking, because you never bothered with it. Walking is natural to us without thinking about it, but if we thought about it, we would come to the conclusion that both legs are evenly engaged. We would also come to the conclusion that our center and our weight are evenly distributed between our legs all the time.
The basic foundation of ballet is to keep the center of the body evenly suspended between arms and legs.
Here is another experiment: Write your name on a piece of paper with the hand that you normally don’t use.
Unless you are one of the few, it’s not easy and pretty clumsy. The reason is simple: writing is a one handed activity and once your body decided which hand to use, the other hand was never trained to perform this task. Had you, from day one, written the same amount with the other hand, you’d be one of the very few that can manage writing equally as well regardless of which hand they use.
This brings us to an interesting choice when it comes to dancing and the training in ballet: Should we use our body as if we were walking or as if we were writing? To me it is pretty clear and as a matter of fact, “kinda-sorta” everybody already uses both sides by virtue of necessity and the bothersome reality that there won’t be a barre always to hold onto.
But there is an underlying principle and physical law that needs to be conscientiously understood and applied if the goal is to be an efficiently trained dancer: I like to call it The Principle of Equal Energy and Opposition.
When you lift your right leg up in any direction, the energy in your left leg needs to go down to maintain the symmetry of your body. There really is no active and inactive leg, but equal forces that make the movement possible. If your right arm is in second position, the energy goes sideways and, according to this principle, the energy of your left arm goes the other way, even on the barre.
If you brush a tendu to the side with your right foot, your left arm needs to actively “oppose” the movement by pushing to the opposite side as well. Imagine a theraband tied to your right ankle and your left wrist behind your back with a noticeable amount of tension. If you just move your right foot, your left arm will be pulled behind you by that movement unless you actively counter the sideways energy of your foot with energy in your hand/arm to keep it in place.
Only if both sides of the body are equally active and engaged all the time on the barre and in the center, can progress be expected as a result of the training.
The basic foundation of ballet is to keep the center of the body evenly suspended between arms and legs. All movements are initiated by the most outer points (toes and fingers) traveling toward the center at an equal speed, also called Coordination. The center of the body never moves (with exception of tombe), which makes it a direct descendant of walking. Anybody who walks or jogs knows that the left arm works always in tandem with the right leg and vice versa. Ballet is just like that!
So is there a right side and a left side? Of course! Is there a good side and a bad side? Not really. There might, however, be a comfortable side and a not so comfortable side. That doesn’t mean that one should be favored over the other. Unless you want to finish up dancing like writing your name with the wrong hand on a piece of paper.
I teach sometimes an Opposition Class and literally strap my students into therabands, it is an eye opening experience for all of them and changes their work in most cases for the better. If you try it and it works for you, send me a dollar.
Especially on the barre it is crucial to understand how right and left, working side and standing or supporting side, or better, working side and opposing side are connected and always work in tandem. I make it a point in my classes to change legs and sides frequently during combinations on the barre to avoid the “planting shock” once the class moves to the center.
Unless a student is fairly advanced and self-sufficient in understanding equal energy and opposition, the barre can be lethal and corrupt technique by training same arm/same leg coordination. Once the barre is gone, the student needs to learn opposite arm/leg coordination all over! Only if both sides of the body are equally active and engaged all the time on the barre and in the center, can progress be expected as a result of the training.
Of course, there always will be a side that you favor and a side that you don’t. But it’s especially the un-favored side that will teach you everything you do wrong on the favorite side. It’s that side that should become your favored to work on things! Why work on things that come easy? Smart dancers will treat their un-favored side as the “clean” side and their favorite side as their “dare” side.