by David Arce
Ballet is all about plié. Once students leave the barre for the center, nearly every step and position starts with plié—especially jumps. So periodically, during warm-up changements or sautés, give your students extra time to find and hold deep pliés.
During a repetitive series of jumps—for example, eight changements—students often sacrifice the depth of their pliés, “popping” preparations (lifting the heels too soon), and letting their legs turn in. To rectify this, first break down the step by calling attention to each position. Then give a sequence in which dancers hold landings longer: for instance, jump 1, jump 2, hold demi-plié 3, 4; repeat. This will give your students time to find deep, turned-out pliés.
Sometimes the best way for dancers to grasp a correction is to feel it with their own two hands. For example, students tend to lose muscle engagement in the lowest point of the gluteus maximus, where it connects to the inner thigh muscles. This is most apparent before pirouettes en dedans, fondus, and soutenus.
To correct this, have students take a correctly aligned first-position plié, then place their hands on this region. Keeping tailbones pointing down, they activate and deactivate the gluteus maximus and inner thigh muscles, feeling them tense and relax under their fingertips.
Tell students to think of these “ballet muscles” not as two muscle groups working independently, but as one large muscle, which connects at the spine’s base and travels to the back of the knee. This idea will help them understand, and feel, the importance of keeping that entire region engaged to find maximum turnout. An awareness of this muscular connection, plus a strong core working on the spine’s other side, forms the base of all ballet technique.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.