The almost-isometric plié: Part One

If you are going to pirouette, you usually begin from a plié in fourth or fifth position. If you are going to relevé to a pose, you begin with plié on one leg, or fondu. If you are going to jump, there’s a plié before and after. We can’t dance without the plié. The demi-plié initiates and completes almost every movement we make. Consequently, the plié is the most important and the most difficult movement to execute properly. The plié is ballet.

My first serious ballet teacher, Willam F. Christensen (affectionately called Mr. C.) often said, “You know, your legs bend, and they straighten. They bend, and they straighten. That’s it.”
How right he was. Adding on to Mr. C.’s straight talk, I teach pliés emphasizing how the legs bend and straighten. It is important for students to grasp the mechanics of the plié so that they will strengthen their feet, legs, and bodies as they work.

When you dance, you: 1. bend your knees so that you can /2. push the floor with your feet, which will / 3. cause you to either stand with a straight leg on a flat foot, on relevé, or leave the floor and spring up into the air as you / 4. execute a balance, turn, or jump.

We all want to have a plié that will power us strongly and safely as we begin and end our movements. With correctly executed pliés, we can dance with ease and avoid injuries to the feet, ankles, and knees. (To be continued) (Excerpted from The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students)

Changing Directions: Use Your Arms

15_UYAUse Your Arms

Whenever you change directions, use your arms. For instance, if you are facing corner 8 with your arms open in second position and must turn to face corner 2, swing your right arm back to corner 4 and reach your left arm to corner 8. Keep your head on your left shoulder. And, vice versa.

Best White Knuckle Barre Exercise of 2015

Grand battement à la seconde.

Grip the barre until your knuckles are white! Pull on the barre! Lift your shoulder! Crunch your body! Kick that leg! Bend that supporting knee! Roll in that supporting foot! And, above all, do not point that free foot!

PIROUETTE EN DEHORS: Working your feet

Every movement you make should be powered by the action of your feet (or foot). In terms of preparing for the pirouette en dehors from the fourth position, keep the following in mind:

  1. Your supporting foot grips the floor in order to bring the body and legs into place for the preparatory pose and the plié.
  2. Your supporting foot grips the floor in opposition to the upward stretch of your head. This engages and connects all of the muscles in your supporting leg from the toes to the hip. How can you expect to line up your  leg bones properly unless you engage the muscles that move them?
  3. Your supporting foot grips the floor in order to bring all of the weight of your body into it.
  4. Your supporting foot grips the floor and determines the placement of your back foot.
  5. Your supporting foot pushes down on the floor so that you relevé and turn on a straight leg.
  6. When your back toe leaves the floor that is when you turn your head and spot.

FJ_DVD_WALLETExcerpted from my book The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students


Work your demi-plié

01_BBAABWhy do we demi-plié? In order to spring up on half-toe or jump, and then to lower ourselves to the starting position. When you make a deep demi-plié with feet and legs relaxed you must then pull up out of the plié which will tend to set you back on your heels, make you fall off your turns, and lessen your elevation. You don’t need—or want—a deep, relaxed demi-plié—but you do need strong feet and ankles. Every movement we make comes from the floor. It begins with our toes and ends with our toes. In order to strengthen your feet and ankles, try to initiate your movements with an almost-isometric plié. I say “almost” because if it were simply isometric you would not move at all. Almost-isometric means that you move quietly and steadily with steely strength and intense opposition. The upward energy through the back of your neck equals the downward energy in your toes, feet, and ankles. Here’s how to learn what the almost-isometric plié feels like: Flatten both hands. Place one atop the other, palms down, fingers in opposite directions. Curl your fingers over each other. Grip strongly and pull as hard as you can without uncurling the fingers. Can you feel the muscles working in your fingers, hands, arms and shoulders? Now do this with your feet and legs. Stand in first position, grip the floor with toes curled and arches domed—you will feel your ankles tense—and slowly pull your knees into a small demi-plié. Resist the downward movement by stretching the back of your neck, keeping your hips as far from the floor as possible. The plié is minimal. Don’t lift your heels. You should feel a line of muscular engagement from your toes all the way up to your hips. Don’t think position; think power. Now you are ready to relevé: quickly press the balls of your feet against the floor, flatten your toes, and spring up to the half-toe. Keep driving your weight down through the floor until your legs are straight. Keep pushing your insteps over your spread toes. You should balance easily as long as you are in “Number 1” (correct posture). Try this with battement fondu en croix. Try it with a pirouette en dehors from both fifth and fourth positions. Yes, I know it is not in the ballet books. But we haven’t always had TV, the internet, and hip and knee replacements. Times have changed. So should you. This is explained in detail in my instructional video “Ballet Barre for the Adult Absolute Beginner” which is available on my website and Amazon.



Piqué en Arabesque #3

Many students have trouble finding their balance when they piqué in first arabesque. This is the third blog in a series of excerpts from my Guidebook on how to make this all-important step look better.

FJ_DVD_WALLET #3 Ears back!

This is an abbreviated command. Since you are moving forward, you must have opposition of weight and movement in order to balance your piqué in first arabesque. Therefore, keep your ears and shoulders back. Most importantly, find your balance by sending energy down through your standing leg and out through your back shoulder and arm. Remember that only your toes and hips move forward. The succession of movement is this: toes, hips, chest, shoulders, arms, and head. Your ears stay back until the last moment. (Excerpted from “The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students. Page 274.)

Piqué en Arabesque #2

Piqué en Arabesque #2

Many students have trouble finding their balance when they piqué in first arabesque. This is the second blog in a series of excerpts from my Guidebook on how to make this all-important step look better.

#2. Walking down the stairs

When you piqué, imagine that you are going down the stairs. On your way down, you don’t lean forward because you will fall. You keep your ears up and your shoulders back. You reach downward for each step with your foot forward and leg extended. After you have placed your foot on the step, you rest momentarily. Use the same principles when you piqué. You may look like you are stepping “up” on your leg when you piqué, but actually you are always stepping down. (Excerpted from “The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students. Page 274.)

Piqué en Arabesque

Piqué en Arabesque


Many students have trouble finding their balance when they piqué in first arabesque. In the next few blogs, I will present different ideas on how to make this all-important step look better.

 1. Reach out, step over, and push down

Whenever you piqué, whether it’s to a simple pose or a turning pose, always reach your piqué foot and step as far from your back leg as possible. Good dancers, especially those working on pointe, always “show their leg” before they piqué arabesque. You should see your long straight leg with a strongly pointed foot reaching out before you stand on it. Some dancers make a “scooping” movement when they piqué arabesque. As they fondu, they lean forward and let their hips drop back. Instead of reaching out and over and pushing down, they lean forward and piqué with a bent knee. Then they jerk their arms and arabesque legs upward and hold their breath while they try to balance. It looks like they are struggling. That is because they are. I tell my students, “You look like what you do.” If you work correctly, your balance is automatic and effortless. If you work incorrectly, you fight for your balance or miss it completely, and we notice it. For fun and learning, ask your students to bring their dance bags to the center floor. Have them practice their piqué arabesque by stepping over their own bag. This will teach them to keep their ears and shoulders back and not lean forward. It will teach them how to “show their legs” and find an easy balance. (Excerpted from “The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students. Page 274.)

Positions are Functional

Positions are Functional


The classical ballet body positions are based on logic and are functional. When we use them as we dance across the floor, we are able to maintain our balance and move with control and grace. For instance, when making a tombé pas de bourrée forward from corner 6 to corner 2, we usually begin stepping out on the right foot. Most beginning students have trouble with this step. Instead of beginning with a pose in effacé devant (the head placed over the left shoulder and eyes focused in line with that shoulder) they tilt their head to the right, look straight ahead, and lean over the right foot. As a result, they have all their weight moving in the same direction at the same time which makes them stumble and get behind the music. If they would start out in a proper effacé devant pose—and look away from where they are going—they will then be able to balance the forward movements of their feet and legs and move with control and grace. NYCB Soloist Antonio Carmena demonstrates this beautifully in my instructional video “Basic Ballet Movement Skills Lesson 1.”

Basic Ballet Movement Skills: Lesson 1