- 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.
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?
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?
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)
A PLIÉ IS NOT A PLIÉ
Go beyond the position. What are you going to do with that demi-plié in fifth position? What is it for? If you are making the plié as a preparation for a pirouette, pose, or jump, make sure you place your weight over what will be your supporting toe. This will make it much easier for you to rise perfectly balanced on one foot. Form follows function. More details on this idea are in my instructional video “Use Your Head & Turn!”
The biggest challenge a dancer faces each day is being able to repeat the correct preparation—for a balance, turn, or jump—over and over, day after day—with a sense of newness and discovery. It’s always the same, but you have changed.
JUMP TIP #1
Bounce like a rubber ball: When teaching jumps, use a rubber ball (Spalding is best) to show your students how you want them to bounce off the floor. Raise the hand holding the ball as far from the floor as possible and then bounce the ball as quickly as possible. Point out that the ball does not sit on the floor—you don’t see the ball on the floor. You see it going up. In the same way, when your students plié to jump, their feet should not rest on the floor. They must not plié slowly. They should be stretched up strongly in Number 1, keep their hips up high, make the plie almost isometric, and jump with a fast minimal push from the knee. They should focus on the action of the foot going from flat on the floor to being pointed in the air. Concentrate on the pushing the floor as quickly as possible using the ankle, instep, and toes. Push and point— QUICKLY! For more detailed instructions like this, use “The Finis Jhung Ballet Technique: A Guide for Teachers & Students.”
This is one of the most useful videos Finis has created because it not only teaches you how to jump, it also teaches you how to dance BIG. Learn how to execute connecting movements such as the glissade and pas de bourrée so that they become preparations for little jumps such as the jeté and assemblé. Finis shows each exercise, step-by-step, count-by-count, and then it is expertly demonstrated. Finis analyzes and corrects each exercise and then it is repeated with noticeable improvement. And that is because Finis shows you how to use opposition through your torso and arms in order to facilitate the movements of the feet and legs. Wouldn’t you like to look in the mirror and see yourself standing in the air? You can, and will, when you learn what Finis teaches in this video. Get the streaming version so you can coach yourself before each class. Transform yourself from earth-borne to airborne.
You’re always stretched up and standing tall in Number 1, but when you plié-relevé there is a distinct difference in how you move and look according to the way you do it. Here’s how to get the feeling of making your plié relevé correctly. Stand in front of a wall, arms-length away, place both hands on the wall, and lean in so both elbows are bent. Slowly push yourself away from the wall. Your elbows straighten because you push the wall. Continue pushing until your hand leaves the wall and you are pushing the wall with just your fingertips. In the same way, your legs straighten when you relevé because you are pushing down on the floor. Driving down in order to go up—pushing down to relevé—instead of trying to pull yourself up—sends your weight down into the floor and gives you better balance and fluidity of movement. Try it.