Pliés – things to remind yourself of during ballet class

Ballet class last Friday was great, as it was a small class with loads of corrections from our teacher. I really miss that – my previous teacher back home used to always shout corrections throughout the class; timely reminders on things we should be looking out for when moving through the exercises.

It was a coincidence that a link to this page on questions to ask yourself during ballet class was shared on Facebook today. It’s an excellent article containing lots of important reminders on what ballet dancers should be mindful of, and since it’s now mostly just me shouting at myself in my head, I thought to note down some aspects to look out for in class.

Let’s start with the barre – how do you do proper pliés?

  1. You should be warm by the end of the exercise. It took me a long time to realise how wonderful a pliés exercise can be, but my teacher used to tell us just that and pliés are now the exercise I use to warm up quickly. To get warm from pliés means you need to utilise all the muscles in the legs, which you would do if you..
  2. Squeeze your muscles hard with every move. When going down and coming up from a plié, you should feel a certain amount of ‘resistance’ in your muscles. This ‘resistance’ is achieved by squeezing your muscles hard and taking your time to really bend and stretch slowly, using every millisecond of the music available.
  3. Imagine yourself pushing against the floor to recover from a plié. Keeping this image in mind will help to work the inner thigh muscles more effectively. In a related vein…
  4. Recover from a grand plié via a plié. When recovering from a grand plié, it helps to drop the heels to the floor and be in plié position for split second, before straightening fully. This helps to ‘push’ against the floor to straighten as well.
  5. Engage the glutes. Or more accurately, the muscles right below your glutes, between your bum and thighs. When doing the pliés, imagine those muscles moving downwards and forwards along your inner thighs, forcing your inner thighs to close tightly. It will help to achieve this if you also…
  6. ‘Tuck in’ the bum. This should be done with every stretch of the leg during the pliés, and at the start and end of every exercise. Consciously checking if you’ve ‘tucked in’ your bum will help to create the correct alignment  (prevents you from ‘sitting’) and engage the inner thigh muscles more effectively.
  7. Knees should be straight and pointing to the sides. Everyone knows these, but I personally have a huge problem with not straightening my knees properly, especially during forward port de bras.
  8. Check your weight distribution. Attempting to deepen the plié can sometimes mean that the feet and knees roll forward. Avoid that by focusing on keeping the knees pointing towards the sides and moving down the imaginary straight line from your head, to hip to heels. Also, keep your weight firmly between your front and back feet when doing a grand plié in fourth position.
  9. Keep the shoulders square. My teacher pointed out last week that some of us tended to drop our shoulders when the arms moved to bras bas. We should always maintain the upright upper body even while having expressive arms and head.

As pliés are often done with port de bras, let’s throw in some reminders for how to do proper port de bras too:

  1. Keep the knees straight. As mentioned above, my knees tend to bend slightly when I do forward port de bras in first and fifth positions. Remember to squeeze the thighs tightly together, and don’t be tempted to let the knees go in an attempt to achieve a deeper bend!
  2. Bend from the waist for backwards port de bras. There’s the tendency to push the hips forward while doing backwards port de bras – avoid that and bend from the waist instead, maintaining that straight line from the hips down to the heels.
  3. Maintain a straight line from calf to ankle (fourth position). The other day, my teacher in my Monday class pointed out that my weight tended to move forward slightly during a relevé on demi pointe in fourth position. This pushed my front ankle outwards, which would be dangerous en pointe. Instead, I should shift my weight to be firmly between both feet and ensure a straight line from calf to ankle.
  4. Use your core to recover from a forward port de bras. When recovering from a forward port de bras, using your core instead of your back will help to maintain a beautiful flat back.

Of course, pliés should be done slowly and smoothly without any jerking. There should only be brief pauses between each plié or step – this means that you’re using all the music to achieve a full bend and stretch with each plié, and getting a maximum workout.

That’s it from me so far – do let me know if I’ve missed out on other important points!

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