July 21, 2011

Ups and Downs: Pliés, not Life.

Ballet class, center pirouette exercise: tombé pas de bourré into fourth, foutté turn with right leg ronde to the back - TPDB into fourth, double pirouette en dehors - TPDB into fourth, fouetté turn into preparation for en dedans pirouette - turn - plié - sous tenu turn - tombé - pirouette arabesque (arms ups) - plié - arms open - pirouette en dendans (arms up). There is no pause in the last pirouette combination, you turn, plié and turn. Or are thrown off your axis, like me..

Now here´s the "trick" to survive: after down, comes up. Up, down, up, down. Or like our teacher Silvia said: it is very much like in real life. I know what she was getting at, it´s an easy comparison to draw.. But, as we know, life is not always fair. There are no guarantees that after "down" comes the inevitable "up". Sometimes shit happens. But not so in ballet! Even if learning ballet is like riding the metaphorical rollercoaster. Your learning curve will take you high, and then you will plummet, gather speed again and plataeu, buy a new ticket and ride up again. Only with learning ballet you will eventually advance, despite the rides down with the arms flailing and the screaming. Wait, no screaming in ballet class. But fun! 

James Whiteside and Melissa Hough of the Boston Ballet. Source: here.

Then there is the actual, physical act of going up and down. No metaphors here. If you want to jump, you plié first to push off. We know that the same applies to turns. Strangely, we keep forgetting this. Pliés become too easily habitual and perfunctory, and in the process we are robbed of their full potential! That is why our teacher threw the life-must-have-its-up-and-downs metaphor us. We were doing the pirouette exercise as if the directional line was fixed by a level, when we should have been going down, up, down, up.. Using our pliés, and the rebound energy they provide. Our teacher demonstrated again, and we tried our best to follow suit. Whaddya know - it worked!

Of course we all know the theory behind the plié, and its purpose. But I urge each and everyone of you to pay extra attention next time you dance. Make those pliés count, and not just in the obvious jumps. Dare to go down, and deeper. Trust that at least in ballet this action will always bring you right back up. Literally and figuratively.


  1. So true, so true! Thanks for the great reminder! Our teacher almost has to plead with us to remember to plié in every class.

    "Why do you all not like to plié?" he always asks.

    Dare to go down, and deeper. Love that. Will remember that!

  2. I love this post and the metaphor of the ups and downs of plies mirroring the ups and downs of life :)

    I admit that petit allegro is my least favorite part of class (I'm tall and always feel like it's hard to keep up), but I have been really breaking down the transitions from one jump to the next and had the same realization: it's all about the plies. They give you a place to end and begin with a spring and the up-down movement really gives it phrasing and makes it "dance." Making the plies count is excellent advice!

  3. Yes, never take the plié for granted! Give it the attention it deserves and the rewards are yours :)

    One thing wich I forgot to stress, is that the plié is a movement, and not a position to sit in. The moment you reach your maximum going down, it is up again. You know this of course.

    The other thing is, don´t limit your pliés to allegro and pirouettes alone. Even when you do a tombé pas de bourré, the first direction is really down! Like Kaija said, it will phrase your dancing, and make it interesting to watch too!

    So, Jean: love your pliés :)

    Kaija: I´m the opposite, short and bouncy. Jumping is the one thing that comes naturally (yay). But I still have to remind myself not do dance flat, or "levelled". Pliés really do add depth and dimension to dancing!

    Thanks Jean and Kaija for your lovely comments! :)

  4. Isn't it fascinating how we all have our natural advantages and our "opportunities to overcome?" I may hate petit allegro, but I adore adage...there I can use my strength and extensions and my height makes nice long lines. :) I like watching other people and seeing what they do helps me improve and appreciate the diversity of body types and facilities.

    I've been working on the "continuous movement" in the plie as makes such a difference in the quality of movement and in the way the muscles must work. A set of super slow grand plies really gets me sweating but feels so good.

  5. Kaija, points for being so positive about it! I must admit to the occasional envy of other dancers´"natural advantages".. especially turn-out, flexibility, and the "ballet body". Mainly things that have been gifted, not so much aquired.

    But then I love to watch dancers, any kind, who are really musical, fluid, strong and secure. Not afraid of being themselves on stage or in class. I like to see where real work gets you, never mind what you started out with :)

    How sweet that your strength is adage!

  6. Oh dear, I must really keep this post in mind... plies are my weakness and I really must focus on them this year. I'm tall, so I feel that I have to go so goddamn low when I plie, so why bother. And then I can't get up, 'cos I wasn't low enough. (This is turning into blues lyrics...)

    We did the same excercise last week, only much simpler version, and because of my lousy plies, it was more like preparation -fall on your face - hands up.


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...