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?
The demi-plié is the preparation for, and the end of, almost every movement we make in ballet dancing. Therefore, it must be done with strength and control. This is the first and most important lesson I teach all students.
Get in front of the mirror and stand in a wide second position (at least two foot-lengths apart). Your body should resemble a triangle. You are going to stretch up through your head with energy that equals what you put into your feet and legs.
I don’t want you to relax into a picture position. Your knees will bend into the plié position because your feet are going to grip the floor and pull your legs.
To get the feeling of this, curl your fingers over each other. Now grip and pull as hard as you can without letting go. Can you feel the muscles in your fingers, hands, arms and shoulders?
Now do this with your feet to make your plié.
Your toes claw and your feet grip the floor, and slowly pulling your legs into the plié. Reach for the ceiling with your head. You should not see an abrupt drop in height or any jerky movements. Your knees are moving outward, but you barely see a downward movement. That’s because the energy you are using to stretch up is equal to the energy you are putting into your feet and legs.
You are stretching up the back of your neck and trying not to bend your knees. You feel a stretch in your hips as your legs move away from each other. You are pulling in your stomach muscles tightly. You are trying to keep your pelvis up.
The almost-isometric plié is hard work! You can feel that all of your muscles are engaged—from your toes through the foot to your ankles, the outside of your lower legs, your knees, your thighs, your hips, up the front of your body and the back of your neck.
It’s not how low you go; it’s HOW you go. What is important is that the plié begins and ends with your toes.
Now change your thoughts. You relax your feet and spread your toes. You are pressing down on the floor with your feet. Slowly, imperceptibly, your legs are in motion, and you realize you are standing as you began, in the triangle position.
The almost-isometric plié is an “invisible” movement. On count 1, you are standing with straight legs, and on count 8, you are in plié, but you never saw the downward movement. The ascending movement is also “invisible.” You are in plié, and eight counts later, you are standing in the triangle, but when did it happen?
Especially at the barre, try to make all of your pliés—large and small, two feet or one foot, slow or fast—almost isometric. Try to do this in center floor as well, tempo permitting. Then you will always have a plié which will enable you to move with strength and control.
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.
#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.)
As you dance forward across the center floor with a battement fondu developpé relevé, it’s a good idea to remember how Gail Grant defines it in “The Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet”: “As the supporting leg straightens, the dancer rises to the demi-pointe and performs a developpé at 45 or 90 degrees.” Sadly, many ballet students execute this step backwards: First they lift and kick the developpé and then use that momentum to lift the supporting heel and pull the supporting leg straight. This pulls your weight away from the supporting toe, looks jerky, and makes you look clumsy.
Here’s how to look better: Reach forward as far as possible with what will be your supporting leg. Point that foot strongly. Correctly align that foot so that it will be under your body on half-toe. Press down firmly on the floor with the ball and toes of your supporting foot. This will make you rise to the half-toe on a straight leg. As you push down and rise, the back foot will automatically be brought forward—it will follow your supporting foot—and then you will complete the developpé. Always time your movements with the transfer of weight to the supporting foot and leg.
Try to dance more with your feet rather than your legs. Do less dancing with your thighs and knees and more with your feet. Your feet should never be passive. Your supporting foot should never wobble if you are working from it, and it should push the floor to move your body. Your free foot or gesture foot should point the free leg where you want it to be. When you make a battement tendu or dégagé, even a developpé, think of where that free foot goes and let it bring the free leg to the position. Try it.