- The demi-plié is almost isometric. In both the downward and upward movements, the feet—rather than the knees—should initiate the movements. The feet grip the floor and pull the legs into the plié and then relax and push down to return the legs to the standing position. This also applies to pliés on one foot.
- Most dance movements are on one leg. What must be developed at the barre is the ability to balance on and move from one foot. Try to work at portable barre placed parallel to the mirror. Stand behind the barre, on the diagonal. This will allow you to keep an eye on your supporting side and encourage you to work correctly. Test your balance by frequently taking your hand off the barre during exercises. In addition, check your readiness to move. You should always be able to rise off your heel whenever you press down on the floor.
- The supporting leg controls the free leg, and initiates each movement. The timing of every movement is made by the supporting leg. The free leg (the foot that brushes or slides) never pulls or moves the body. Only the supporting foot that pushes the floor should move the body.
- In the center floor, every step you take must be balanced by an arm, or both arms, reaching in the opposite direction. At the barre, develop this sense of the “back arm” by reaching for the barre and pressing down it. Never pull on the barre.
- When you pirouette from the fourth position, be sure that you go to “the end of theplié.”
- A jump is a relevé in the air. Push the floor, stand in the air.
- Overcross the glissade précipitée, which leads into battement fondu developpé relevé, and jumping steps where the free leg is brushed into the air.
How to place the first arabesque
The beauty of the arabesque depends on the correct placement of the head. The head must be centered on a high chest with energy going up the back of the neck. Stand in front of the mirror in first arabesque on the right foot. Your left arm is in second position, your right arm is extended forward defining the first arabesque position. Do not tilt your head to the right towards your right shoulder and arm. This is why you fall forward when you attempt a piqué arabesque (stepping directly on the half-toe). When you pose in arabesque on your right foot, use your left arm for balance. Reach out and towards the back with your left arm as you extend your R arm forward. Keep your shoulders level with the floor as you press down on the air with both arms. Standing on the right foot, think of listening to the music with your left ear. The rule of balance: Ears Back!
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.
Yesterday at the Ailey Extension I gave the adult absolute beginners the Ballet Barre for the Adult Absolute Beginner followed by one of the short dances from The Ten-Minute Ballet Break.
We used Exercise 1 from the Ballet Break #2. (There are four different ten-minute breaks, each with four different dances.)
You can catch a glimpse of this in the video trailer: http://finisjhung.com/shop/ten-minute-ballet-break/
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!
It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s just that you’re doing it incorrectly.
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.
You are a star forever!
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!
You Can Turn!
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.
A thought for today: Do you bend back to show you can bend your back or do you bend back and reach back so that you can step forward and push down into a relevé or jump?
BASIC BALLET CHECK-UP #3
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?