Resident barre specialist Sarah, breaks down the plié
Barre, it’s your favourite thigh-burning, smile-inducing mix of pilates, yoga, and ballet. If you’ve come to a class, chances are that a plié (or twenty!) has likely been the culprit of this burn before!
The plié (sounds like plee-ay) is a foundational cornerstone of ballet and barre classes and translates from French to mean “to bend at the knees”.
As we are sure you have felt in your barre classes, a plié requires a little more finesse (and energy expenditure) than simply bending and straightening our legs!
The plié is actually quite technical and requires controlled and fluid movement, proper alignment, as well as the recruitment of many different muscles to support a feeling of ‘lift’ throughout the whole body. It can be performed with our heels together or apart (in any of the five feet positions found in ballet), and forms the base for many of your favourite barre exercises!
There are two broad types of plié – the demi plié (half bend of the knees) or a grande plié (full bend). In a demi plié, the heels remain on the floor, meaning the bend of your knees will be limited by the flexibility of your ankles and the length of your achilles tendons – this restriction is natural, don’t let it worry you! In a grande plié, the thighs come horizontal to the floor as the heels lift (except in second position where the heels traditionally remain grounded).
In our barre classes, you will notice we use pliés to form the basis of many movement sequences, and we get creative (read: less traditional than ballet!) with heel placements to work into slightly different muscle groups to help achieve that infamous “barre burn”!
For example, we might choreograph grande plié pulses in second position with heels in relvé (lifted) to challenge our balance and work more strongly into the quadriceps and calf muscles.
If you weren’t a dancer in your former life, it can be a lot to remember!
Here we break down the steps for your perfect plié form.
Find your foundation… Feet first!
Begin with your feet parallel and your heels together. Lean back into your heels and spread the feet into first position or a “V shape”- a 45-degree angle of each foot is perfect to begin withTurnout from the hips is key here! This is done by externally rotating the legs from the hip joint, so your thigh bones, kneecaps and toes all stack over each other in alignment.
Your turnout will vary depending on your individual hip structure. Over years of practice, many dancers develop a wider turnout, but please don’t stress about this, especially if you’re just beginning at the barre! Proper alignment is far more important. Take care not to turn the toes too far outward – you want to feel comfortable and make sure your knees can move in alignment with your feet and toes as you bend.
Check in with the posture and alignment of the arms and body
Relax your shoulders away from your ears, allow the scapula to flatten on the back body and round the arms into first position (a big oval shape). You can find this shape by imagining you are scooping up a basket just below your hips with both hands, your elbows and wrists soften, your palms face skywards with your middle fingertips slightly apart and a hands distance away from your body.
Make sure the torso remains upright with your skull aligned over the shoulders, and shoulders over hips. Engage your core to prevent the ribcage from flaring outwards and maintain a neutral spine with a very slight tuck of the tailbone.
You’ll notice that this feeling differs a lot from what you may feel in a squat, as we recruit the inner and outer thighs to keep the knees over the toes – no sticking your bottom back to get lower! Similarly, don’t tuck the pelvis too far forward into a hip thrust (we know it’s tempting!) – it can help to imagine the body sandwiched between two walls both in front and behind you to keep you steady.
Plié – bend at the knees!
Fold your knees out over your toes, creating a diamond shape between the legs as you bend. Engage your inner and outer thighs to keep the knees over the toes, rather than letting the knees roll in towards each other.
Imagine a string pulling the crown of the head towards the sky, your posture lifted and relaxed, even as you move downwards.
The movement is slow, fluid, and controlled – you want to engage and feel active through your legs and glutes. Remember the support of your imaginary walls!
Return to standing
To return to standing, press evenly through all 4 corners of your feet as if you were pushing the floor away from you. Keep this movement as slow, controlled and fluid as your descent. The knees stay slightly soft as you rise to stand so you aren’t locking out your joints, and your leg muscles stay engaged. Repeat and feel
Once you have your form and start using the correct technique, you’ll notice your body recruits the same muscles in slightly different ways, allowing you to feel more supported and steady in your practice. You can then build upon this with different positions with your feet and arms, and of course, with all those crazy combinations we throw at you in the studio!
Happy plié-ing, we’ll see you at the barre!