Plie is the most important movement in all of ballet exercises. Almost all of ballet movements begin and end with it. You use it when you jump, dart, turn, glide, land from jumps, and spring up whether on demi-pointe or on pointe. Hence, it is essential that we learn to execute it in a correct manner. When executed correctly, it prepares us for jumps; cushions us from the impact of landing from jumps; prevents injury; and enable us to turn from a stable “base” and not throw us off balance.
Plie also warms up the major muscle group of the legs, namely the thigh muscle. That is why it is usually done at the earlier part of the barre exercise, if not as the 1st exercise.
When executing the plie, care must be taken to turn out from the hips, keeping tail bone down thus lengthening the lower back. (This is important to note as this cushions your lower back from the impact of landing from jumps.) Keep upper back, sternum and abdominal muscles lifted the whole time. Ensure that the knee is over the toes, preferably over the 2nd or 3rd toe.
When executing plie in the different positions of the feet, ensure your weight is in the center of both legs, especially in 2nd & 4th position. Make sure the weight on both feet are evenly distributed. We have a tendency to stand on the back leg especially in 4th position. So, to find your center in the 4th crossed position: keep legs stretched and firmly planted on the floor, move your hips forward (shoulders respond accordingly keeping a vertical line with the hips) until you can’t move anymore without going off balance. This is your center.
When executing plie in all the positions of the feet, it is most important that you “feel” the stability of this position. Because this is where all your jumps, turns, darting, gliding and landing will be coming from. So, you must get used to the “feeling” of it until it becomes 2nd nature. Do not check the mirror unless it’s for alignment correction. Remember, there are no mirrors on stage for you to check. So, you need to rely on “feeling” the position and the movement. This applies to all the other ballet exercises.
Now, the process of plie. We must understand that plie is a movement, not a position. It is constantly moving until it either reaches the bottom of the plie (demi or grand) where it rebounds up or ends with stretched legs. This is especially true when preparing for pirouettes. The use of plie in preparation for pirouette is to initiate the torque force required to turn the body. Once you “sit” in your plie and hence not move, the initial force for pirouette is gone. The downward movement of the plie and upward force to releve helps to set the momentum going smoothly and efficiently.
Also, remember, in ballet we always always always stretch our muscles. At no one time do we ever “grip” our muscles. That’s why the muscularity of ballet dancers’ legs are lean and long, not bulky and rounded. Turning out the legs is also another contributing factor. Whether it is in plie or lifting of the legs, keep them stretched.
So, in the downward movement of the plie, we should think of resisting gravity while keeping the upper body lifted. This will avoid excessive use of the thigh muscles to push it down which adds on to muscle mass. Resisting gravity also helps to move the plie smoothly.
In the upward movement, think of bringing the inner thighs together while keeping the rotation of the whole leg. At the final stretch of the legs, do not “snap” the knees to straighten. Instead, keep the knees lifted while extending the stretch upwards to not just straighten the legs but the whole body too.