One of the first steps that is learned when one first started ballet was certainly the Plie.
Plie is the exercise which even at the professional level is never omitted from the course.
What is a Plie?
Plié is a French term meaning to bend, or bending.
There are two principal pliés: A grand plié is a full knee bend (the knees should be bent until the thighs are horizontal) in which the heels always rise off the ground—except when a dancer is in second position—and are lowered again as the knee straightens.
In demi-plié, the heels remain on the floor, making the bend in the knees about half as deep as a grand plié.
Essentially the plie is simply a bend of the knees. Sounds easy enough, right?
While bending and straightening the knees doesn’t seem so hard, pliés are a powering movement that help protect the body from injury (the legs should be turned out from the hips, keeping the knees well over the toes). Therefore, in dance training, the approach to mastering the bending of the legs properly is very deliberate.
However, practising Plie is one of the most important exercises to develop proper technique. It helps joints and muscles to become soft and flexible, and to develop elastic tendons but is also very important in the development of balance, to find your inner centre line and how to move up and down on that line without “breaking it” or disturb it.
As you can imagine, Plie offers so much in the body and is much more than a simple knee flexion.
The plie can be done on the bar and in the centre, and in all the the five positions of the feet. Usually in a ballet lesson, plie is the first exercise to warm up the legs and to set balance and core strength from the very beginning and also activate the muscles of the turn out which is so very important in Ballet practice as in Odissi Classical Indian Dance and many other dance forms.
How to perform a correct Plie?
In Demi Plie knees bend, holding the spine completely vertical above the legs and the hips facing straight forward while the legs are in a turn out position, engaging the glutinous muscles.
While bending the knees is very important to pay attention to the en dehors, the turn out of legs. The knees bend just above the middle toe of the foot and go as low as the achile tendon allows, without lifting the hills off the floor, maintaining the openness of the turn out as much as possible.
A correct plie
is with fully turn out legs from the hips, according to ones ability, the feet are in any position with the arch lifted, the weight distributed in all toes and all the sole equally, the knees are just above the ankles, the hips above the knees and the spine straight, maintaining its natural curves, the shoulders above the hips with the collar bone open and straight, the neck long and the head just above all the body.
Once the body is properly aligned, we bend the knees to plie, with a sensation of maintaining out length, like our body doesn’t want to go low, so instead of bending is more like opening the knees while the rest of the body stays upright.
A very common mistake is to forcing the feet into an unnatural position, over turned out, with the arch of the foot flat on the floor and the body weight on the big toe only, instead of all the toes.
This causes a tremendous strain on the ankles, knees and hips and can cause serious injuries on meniscus, knee and ankle ligaments, hip joints and lower back.
The grand plie includes full bending of the knees until the thighs come parallel to the floor, while the heels gently are lifted from the floor, in all positions, except on the second position were the hills remain on the floor.
Your heels will need to be downloaded again as your knees stretch. First you heels touch the floor at the lowest position, and then stretch the knees. In demi-plie, again bend the knees until you feel that the heels are ready to stand up. That moment before arising heels is the reference point where ends the demi-plie. Each person has a different plie and this has to do with the Achilles tendon. People with long tendon tend to do much more deep plie by persons having shorter.
Bending the knees in Plie either demi plie either be grand-plie should be gradual and smooth, and then climbing to be done at the same speed by pressing the heels on the floor.
The secret to good performance during a plie is: The feet should be kept en dehors, which should be done by the hips and knees to stay open just above the toes with the weight of the body evenly distributed on both feet, with the entire pad to spread the floor.
The base of a good plie is very important as it is the base of all our dance technique!
Why is it so important?
The plie helps and warms the muscles and leg joints.
Warms all muscles in the area of current active in the grip of en dehors, keeping proper posture.
It is the foundation for every movement in ballet but also in so many other dance forms. It is the basis for every turn, jump and landing in any dance technique.
Especially the demi-plie is the foundational move in ballet and is essential to its physicality and artistry.
Every element in ballet has demi-plie and from studio to stage, everything that a dancer accomplishes begins and ends with a demi-plie.
At the beginning of the barre practice, demi-plie is the first step and helps to warm up the feet joints, ankles, knees and hips, helps in the development of flexibility of the muscles in the lower body and brings the awareness of the turn -out in the hip sockets.
The alignment, control and balance of a plie are strengthening the dancers body and are the foundations for the overall look and carriage.
The action of demi-plie at the barre is the basic essential in the development of muscle memory for pliable, soft, cushioned landings in jumps.
And the continuous, repeated motion of the plie in all the 5 basic positions is a great tool in learning the connected transitions between steps in the centre practice.
So, as you can see, demi-plie is very important for the physical training of a dancer.
But , is not only that!
Coordinated with breath, arm and eye movement, plie begins the process of mental focus and concentration, an aspect of preparation that is absolutely necessary for the dancer.
Many dancers also speak about the emotional security that comes along with the ritual of starting the preparation of their dance class with plies.
It is a process that all dancers must go through to be able to leave the world outside of the studio and begin the transition into the magic worls of Dance and their transformation into dancers.
Plie initiates almost all movements and creates a very special relationship between the dancer and the floor!
Plie, means "bent" and in bending and recovery the dancer uses active resistance against the floor which can propel him or her in any possible direction, achive high jumps and build torque to enable turns.
This tension between the dancer and the floor makes possible all these amazing movements!
The Plie has also an inherent relationship to music.
As a dancer executes plie, their musicality is revealed.
Dancers who truly listen their music will perform a noticeably smooth and pliable plie, almost without a beginning and an end, giving them the ability to express the music through whatever movement is required by that music, some time soft and light or others powerful and strong.
Finally, no ballet class or any dance performance is complete without the "reverence", the graceful bows and curtsies at the end.
Plie is again there, has carried the dancer from the beginning to the end.
Preparing the body mind and spirit, from the barre to the empty space of centre, up to the air and through spins. To the bending surrender to the music and to bowing to the audience.
Plie is not only an important movement that builts strong technique and a strong able physical body to a dancer but is essensial to his/her transformation into an Artist!
Is the symbol of possibility and creativity. Without Plie there is no dancer, there is no Dance!