What is a good plié? That's the million-dollar question I often ask students at ballet companies and academies throughout the world. But even though the plié is one of the most common movements in dance, I often get contradictory responses. The correct answer: A successful plié takes the center of the body down and up along the plumb line (central axis) in an efficient manner, without bracing, tension or excess effort.

When done correctly, the plié enables students to perform transitions, jumps, balances and turns. Understanding how the body works (coordinates) to produce the most efficient dance movement is key to improving technique. Since the mind controls the body, change has to first happen in the brain to be permanent—in the way you feel, picture and experience the movement. Imagery allows you to improve control of your body.

Few dancers realize that the subtle changes that happen in the pelvis during a plié are essential for maintaining alignment and turnout without gripping or forcing the joints. The human pelvis is designed to be elastic and respond to the movement of the legs and spine. Holding the pelvis rigid and tightening muscles increases tension, making movement more difficult and the body prone to injury.

To help students, ask them to imagine a flying carpet under their pelvises. In plié, the carpet carries the pelvis down and lifts it back up, greatly reducing the effort in the legs. Then, have them visualize the action of the bones and joints on the descent and move their bodies accordingly:

  • The three points of support in the feet—the center of the heel, the ball of the big toe and the ball of the little toe (fifth toe)—move away from each other. The feet must remain dynamic and involved in the movement.
  • The feet spread on the floor like butter melting. This prevents students from lifting their arches in plié, which causes the joints of the legs and pelvis to grip and reduces turnout.
  • The pelvic girdle is made up of two halves (innominate bones) and a sacrum (bottom part of the spine). Have students think of these halves as twisted plates or spirals. Point out that the top rims of the pelvic halves are on a different diagonal from the bottom of the pelvis, or the sitz bones (ischial tuberosities).
  • The sitz bones move apart (widen). This allows the pelvic floor (between the sitz bones) to stretch and the hip joints to bend (flex/fold) properly. Gripping the pelvis during plié will cause tightening in the hip joints and knees, which reduces turnout.
  • The back of the pelvis widens like a spreading fan, and the front of the pelvis narrows like a fan folding up.
  • The femurs (thigh bones) rotate outward. This is not abduction, or moving the legs sideways, but an external rotation that occurs naturally on the descent due to the design of the leg.

On the ascent, students should feel the weight distributed equally on both feet as they allow the upper body to ride up on the strength of the legs. The femurs naturally rotate inward without gripping the muscles, and the sitz bones move together. The back of the pelvis narrows (folds up) and the front widens.

Whether it's a plié or another movement, all dancers have problem spots or areas in which they'd like to improve. Students can meet these challenges by learning anatomy and then using imagery to understand it in their own bodies. The end result: greater technical ease, strength and flexibility—all with less tension and effort.

Related Articles Around the Web
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: Two years ago, one of my dancers fractured her ankle and was out for six months. Upon her return, I cautiously allowed her to take pointe class, but treated her as if she was a beginner, because she was rolling out into supination, and I was fearful she would reinjure her ankle. Her mother feels I have held her back and changed to another studio. Did I make the right choice?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox