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
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
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
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.
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Copyright 1997 by the Author
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