It is important to remember that the demi-plié in ballet dancing differs from the plié in contemporary dance. In ballet, our movements are usually upward, quick, and light—the dancer must rise from a plié into a pose, turn, or jump and therefore a high center of gravity is required. In contemporary dance the movements are usually horizontal or downward, and weighted—the dancer works with a low center of gravity since there are frequent descents into prone or sitting positions on the floor.
Please don’t relax your demi-plié during your barre exercises. When you have a deep relaxed plié, this will force you to pull yourself up out of it and in doing so this will tend to set you back on your heels and make you behind the music.
At the ballet barre, and as much as possible in center floor when working slowly, always remember you are going to do something with that demi-plié whether it be a pose, turn, or jump. Therefore, when you demi-plié in each exercise, initiate the plié by clawing the floor with your toes and gripping the floor. You want to connect with the floor. You want to feel the muscles in your toes, instep and ankle fully engaged. You are preparing the ball of your foot and your toes to extend, spread, and take all of your weight when you relevé. Make sure you feel a muscular connection from the tips of your toes to your hip—you are spring-loading your feet so that you can push down on the floor and propel your body upwards.
Start and end each demi-plié with your toes and you will improve rapidly. As much as possible (if music and the choreography allow), use this kind of plié in center floor before you pirouette as well as to initiate jumps from two feet.
Fast forward to 1:29 and you’ll see Antonio Carmena, NYCB soloist demonstrate it. I love this music!
The class was full with 35 students, so it was a challenge to teach them all how to do this dance which reinforces the idea of using opposition. For most, it was a totally new experience to tombé in second position on half-toe, so I I used Sophie Ono, who is a regular and continues to improve like a house afire, but who at first did not understand the movement. To help her balance the tombé to the right, I pulled her left arm and shoulder away from her right foot, and told her to keep the weight of her head on her left shoulder. Voila! That demonstration of opposition helped most of the class understand how to work their bodies and after that most could do the exercise with grace and fluidity. We also worked this idea forward and back. I love to see dancers dance!
If you are a teacher, this video will give you lots of short dances you can use in class. If you are an adult student, get the video and do these simple dances in your living room. On with the dance!
A star has 5 points. You have 5 points: Energy flows from the center of your body down through both legs and feet; up through your chest and out through both shoulders and arms; and up to your head and out of your eyes.
Last night after class Ari practiced her outside pirouettes to the right. She was able to do at least two or three but then fell off. I pointed to my left knee and said “One” and then to my eyes and said “Two.” (All turns have 2 counts: plié on the 1, spot on the 2) She smiled, followed my instructions, and performed 5 beautifully placed controlled pirouettes finishing on half-toe. On-looking students were amazed. (So was she, as she was jet-lagged, having just returned from 10 days in Japan). ONWARD—WITHOUT A DOUBT!
In class last night, every center combination was based on the pirouette en dehors from the fourth position. We began with a slow promenade in retire followed by single pirouettes, upping the tempo gradually. As the exercises progressed and advanced, we combined the pirouettes with pas de bourrées, passé par terre, piqué arabesque, a tombé pose, changements, and sissone fermé. By the end of class, all I had to do was remind some of the students to keep both hips forward over the supporting foot and —voila!—they finished their turns perfectly balanced on half-toe. They were quite surprised to learn that in seconds they could correct a faulty turn simply by standing in “number one” with hips forward over the toe, pushing down into the floor, spotting sharply, and then closing the arms.
If you’re having trouble with your outside turns, you will improve with my video Pirouette Class 2 which breaks down all the component parts step-by-step.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: When you work from the outside in—moving one shoulder forward toward the other—you will fall; you are bringing all of your energy and weight to the same side of the body at the same time. As long as you work from the inside out—keeping your body split down the middle and moving one side of the body away from the other—you will balance. The rule of balance for en dedans movements is this: never move both sides of your body in the same direction at the same time
ARE YOU ON YOUR LEG? Stand in front of the mirror in first position. Stand on your left foot and perform four 2-count battements tendu à la seconde without tilting or moving your pelvis, without wiggling your supporting foot, and without changing the alignment of the supporting side. Do it on the other leg. Repeat both sides. Rest. Repeat with battements dégagé. Can you do it?
TRY THIS: Stand sideways in front of the mirror in first position. Perform four 2-Count demi-plié-relevés as fast as possible (as though you are jumping) without tilting your pelvis, pumping with your head and chest, or pulling your toes under you. Rest a few seconds. Repeat the four relevés. Can you do it?