How to Perform a Perfect Plié

Using a barre and performing a Plié
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Most likely one of the first steps you learned in your beginner ballet class, the plié is simply a bending of the knees. Sounds easy enough, right? But did you know that pliés at the barre are one of the most important exercises for developing proper technique? Plié is an exercise designed to make the joints and muscles soft and pliable and the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance. As you can imagine, there is a lot going on during a plié besides bending the knees.

Plié Basics

Pliés are done at the barre and in center in all five positions of the feet. Barre usually begins with a plié sequence. There are two types of plié: grand plié and demi-plié. Grand plié involves bending your knees fully. Your knees should be bent until your thighs are horizontal to the floor, with your heels rising off the floor in all positions but second. Your heels should be lowered again as your knees straighten. Demi-plié is bending your knees halfway. The bending movement of the plié should be gradual and smooth. Your body should rise at the same speed at which it descended while pressing your heels firmly into the floor.

Here's where it gets tricky. During a plié, your legs must be well turned out from your hips, your knees open and well over your toes, and the weight of your body evenly distributed on both feet, with your whole foot grasping the floor. That's a whole lot more to think about than simply bending your knees!

Importance of Pliés

Pliés help to warm up the muscles and joints of your legs. They also warm up turnout muscles and help establish correct body placement. Pliés are the foundation of every turn, jump, and landing in ballet.

Perfecting Your Plié

You probably realize by now that maintaining proper technique during pliés is very important. Some ballet dancers finish pliés at the barre with weak and shaky legs from working so hard to perform them correctly. The more you do pliés, the sooner you will understand the subtle changes that must happen within your pelvis in order to maintain proper alignment and turnout. The following tips will help make your pliés perfect and improve your ballet technique tremendously.

  • Work your turnout from the hip. Maintain alignment of your ribs and pelvis.
  • Be aware of all of your toes on the floor. Don't allow your ankles or knees to roll in.
  • Spread your feet on the floor like melting butter. This will help prevent lifting your arches, causing the joints of your legs and pelvis to grip and reduce your turnout.
  • Keep your heels on the floor during demi-plié. During grand plié, lift your heels at the last possible moment going down and lower them as soon as you can coming back up. Lift them as little as possible.
  • Never sit at the bottom of your plié. Start ascending immediately and keep the timing consistent.
  • Keep in mind that the straightening and stretching of your legs is more important than the bending. Use resistance throughout the entire movement.
  • If you are having trouble with grand pliés in fourth and fifth position, give yourself a break...they challenge turnout and are often omitted from beginner ballet classes.

Source: Minden, Eliza Gaynor. The Ballet Companion, 2005.