Isometric Plié
By Finis Jhung


Tone and Strengthen

Let's talk about the Plié, the most important movement in ballet. Most of our dance movements begin and end with plié. As we dance, turn, and jump, we plié constantly, mostly on one leg at a time. As your legs change from being straight to bent at the knee and ankle, you need properly developed muscles to move your bones. Learning to plié correctly is fundamental to good dancing, yet most dancers do it incorrectly, in that they sink down with relaxed legs, and sit at the bottom of the plié, then jerkily return to a standing position.

Good dance movement requires the ability to plié with control and stretch, so that the movement flows without stopping and appears to be seamless.  Good dancing also requires pliés that will balance the body for turns and jumps.

Therefore, I teach my students to plié isometrically.

The dictionary defines isometric as an exercise or a system of exercises in which opposing muscles are so contracted that there is little shortening but great increase in tone of muscle fibers involved. In other words, you work your muscles in both directions at the same time, resulting in elasticity, or stretched movement.  How do you do this?

Face the mirror, in a wide 2nd position. Be careful that you are aligning your knees with your toes, and that as you plié you are able to keep your knees over your toes, without leaning forward or sticking out your tail bone. Think of the number 1. You have to stand up straight, like a post that supports a ceiling. You always need to feel that vertical line up and down the center of your body.  I always remind my students that ballet is very simple in that you either stand up or fall down, and if you're falling, you can't be dancing!

Can you see that you are making a triangle with your head and legs? Think of energy radiating up the front of the body and the back of your neck. Use your abdominal muscles, relax your back, and drop your tail bone. Be sure your body is centered over your feet so that you can bounce off your heels. You can let your arms hang loosely.

Look at the level of your eyes and ears. See what's in back of you in the room. Now, you're going to try to keep that level of your eyes and ears, and you're going to keep the center of your body where it is. Push the ceiling with the top of your head. Keep this upward energy through the plié. (For that matter, keep this upward energy in everything you do for the rest of your life!)

Now, with your toes, grip the floor, and think of pulling your knees out over your toes, while you continue to stretch up and keep your body level. Do all of this as slowly as possible -- think slow motion -- so that you don't see any sudden drop of your body level. Think of widening the triangle you are making in the mirror. Don't think “down,” but “out.”

You will work the muscles around your ankles, knees, and inside your legs, all the way up into your groin.  If you don't feel these muscular sensations, you're doing the plié too fast.  Stretching upwards, or “resisting” the plié, is what keeps you from losing your balance.

When you are in demi plié, now you are going to reverse the process and ascend.

Now you want to think of staying in plié, you don't want to come up. You're going to have to use the muscles deep inside your  thighs in order to straighten your legs. At the same time, you are resisting, and you'll feel muscles involved on the outside of your legs. Again, do this in slow motion, watch yourself in the mirror so that you don't “pop-up” or jerk.  Think “slow motion” all the way. When your legs are straight, relax your leg muscles, as the weight of your body should be going down through your bones. Always try to relax the muscles of the standing leg (or legs) when straight. Always “resist” (work isometrically) the plié or when extending the gesture leg (developpé, rond de jambe en l'air.)

In review, then, first you have to have the number 1. You have to have a vertical line through the center of your body. You have to stand. Next, visualize the triangle. From the center of your body, you stretch up through the top of your head as much as both legs and feet are working outward to the floor.  Remember the plié is a circular movement, it doesn't stop. The plié always “comes up.”

Give yourself as much time as you need. You want to “feel” this with your muscles, as it is the way you should do all your pliés, whether on two feet or one, whether the music is slow or fast. You will therefore have much more “flow” from one movement to the other, and you will find that your turns and jumps will also improve. We enjoy hearing from you, so don't hesitate to ask whatever's on your mind!

Good Luck!

Copyright 1997 by the Author
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