October 26, 2011

Face Your Plié

Yesterday we started our advanced ballet class with the usual pliés - except that our teacher had us facing the barre through the entire exercise. Just like in the preceeding beginner's class. Which was a bit odd, but I figured Madame has a good reason for it. I mean, her instructions and corrections are among the best I've ever received. So I don't question, I just do as I'm told.

Sure enough, the moment we turned en face (my barre was in front of the mirror), Madame was behind me. "This exercise is for you." I was to look at my plié, see what I was doing wrong and self-correct myself. Which I then tried to do, with Madame helping me to spot the difference. It's because I have this tendency to do a slight hip-tilt, which I can't feel at all and barely see in the mirror. But it's there.

I think I know why I'm tilting my pliés. There is a very minor scoliosis in my lower back, which causes one hip to be slightly raised, and the right leg to be functionally a wee bit longer. I have also a significantly deeper plie on my right leg than on my left. But it's nothing serious, and has caused me no grief since early adolesence. At least not outside of ballet class.

On the one hand, dancing helps me keep my body balanced. On the other hand, my asymmetry is another obstacle to overcome. I would not care so much, but in ballet those pliés are hugely important! And I have been doing quite well so far, to the pointe that it's only a small adjustment to make. Something to pay extra attention to. I just need to become more aware of my body's mechanics and re-train myself. I so want to get this right.

Ballet is a never-ending journey, pardon the cliché. Except that you don't travel in a straight line, but make stops and midway return-trips along the road. Sometimes you get to do fouetté pirouettes and intricate allegro jumps, and in the next class you are working on improving basic tendus and pliés. One might think that going from advanced to basic is one step forward and two back. It is not. Ballet has its own stepping choreography. Two steps back equal three forward!

My plié is getting there.

Solid advice from Finis Jhung. Pliés and other valuables.


  1. Anteeksi, vielä yksi juttu jäi mieleen. Pitäisikö minun kertoa opelleni että haluan balettioppilaitoksen pääsykokeisiin? Koska ymmärtääkseni siellä pitää esittää joku soolo/variaatio ja hänen pitäisi ainakin tsekata että se on hyvä. Ja saattaisin saada lisähuomiota jos kertoisin. Olen aina haaveillut opettajani yksityistunneista mutta se tuskin onnistuisi vaikka kertoisinkin. Vai onnistuisinkohan saamaan yksotyisopetusta jos maksaisin tuplahinnan suoraan opettajalleni.
    En uskaltanut kertoa kärkiopinnoista eilen, aion suunnitella asiaa koska pahin pelkoni on että ope ei reagoi, että sanoisi vaan ok.

    P.S. Keksin nimimerkinkin, nyt olen OK

  2. Hei!

    Voit laittaa mulle myös sähköpostia osoitteeseen:

    Vastaan mielummin sitä kautta, tässä blogissa suomenkieliset kommentit saattavat karkoittaa englanninkielisiä lukijoita.

    t. Johanna :)

  3. I have the same problem with mild scoliosis - my left hip and shoulder are slightly up on my right ones. Mostly I don't notice it (unlike my kyphosis which is in your (well, my at least) face there) except sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and go 'woah, down, down!' and then have to completely realign myself...

    I will totally be practicing pliés facing the barre before my next class now though to keep an eye on that - thank you :)

  4. Hi! Nicely written, again! :) Made me thinking about my back. I'd like to get it checked sometime, not that there's any pain at the moment or stuff like that, but for the fact that I've been playing flute for 23 years now. And the posture is not one of the most ergonomic kinds... Spine has to stay a bit twisted and we can't change it. Would be fun to see an x-ray of my back :D

    About them pliés. This Autumn I got a new teacher (on Wednesdays), who really minded how we/I do them. Especially the grand ones. They have changed, because my other teacher (from last year, now on Saturdays) once said that she noticed how I concentrated :) But!!! I know that if I'd take classes at your school, boy would there be things to correct.

    Thanks for the great video, also! It would be great to buy them & see everything, many times. The only thing is that I really do not like the musics :D Wonder why he doesn't use a pianist?

  5. Hi Knit-Two-Pointe-Two!

    When you see the poper placement in the mirror, try to feel it. Do super slow isometric pliés (without sitting in the position), like Finis Jhung is demonstrating in the video. You could even wear one of those waist elastics (hip alignment belt?)for extra measure.

    The hardest part is relearning. It takes a lot of constant awareness, and a lot of repetition. But I believe it´s possible!

    Let me know how your improved pliés turn out :)

  6. Hi Johanna,
    Great post. I'm fortunate that I really enjoy standing at the barre practicing the basics a thousands time over and never find the repetition tedious or boring. There is always something to work on. I just realized today during jumps in class that although my plie is pretty even and can be nice and deep, I haven't been utilizing it well when I jump! It gets mushy when I come up so my jumps aren't a strong or as high as they could be. Another aspect of plies that I can now work on :)

  7. Hi Bead109,

    I used to swim in my early teens, but it always seemed like work, and no fun at all. Endless repetition, with eyes either on the pool tiles or the ceiling. Talk about being bored!

    But ballet never gets old. Come to think of it, neither do we! ;)

    I pity the dancer who thinks basics are for beginners only. Like you said, there is always something to work on.

    I was thinking what you said about your plie turning "mushy" before you push off into jumps.. Try this exercise at the barre, just for fun:

    In seconde - deep and "juicy" (Madame´s description) grand plié - just before you straigthen your legs, do a demi plié and push off. Use your arms to give yourself a little extra boost. You can do this in first too, of course. Somehow it helps to really focus on the plié before using the plié to jump.

    Another thought.. When I jump, I think less about the preceding plié. Instead I like to think of energy going down (like you would press a tennis ball into te floor), and then releasing it up.

    Holding turnout throughout is obviously important, as is keeping a plum line and your weight forward (in the air too).

    In beginner´s classes you often see that dancers forget to utilize their feet in jumps, that is they don´t use the all important heel-ball-toe action for the final push-off.

    Hmm.. there is definitely a jump-post waiting to be written! :)

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I will now continue to envy your Royal Flush (those Kings of Dance)! :D

  8. Hi Iepukka,

    I'm also curious as to why Finis Jhung doesn´t use a traditional pianist. Maybe a personal preference? But his instructions are solid, and I would love to take private class with him! :)

    It would be a good idea for you to see a dance physiotherapist at some point. Or have you ever considered Alexander technique? There are specific exercises for musicians. Here´s the link:

    Thanks for you comment! :)

  9. Hei OK,

    sähköposti ei sitten tainnut olla sulle sopivin vaihtoehto? En tiedä käytkö täällä enää lukemassa, mutta tarkoitus ei ollut torjua kysmyksesi. Ajattelin että voisin auttaa sua paremmin vastaamalla henkilökohtaisesti. Eikä kaikkien muitten tarttis olla keskustelussa osallisena.. :)

    No, jos luet vielä tätä: Sun tänhetkinen baletinopettaja on se ensimmäinen jonka kanssa sun pitää keskustella kasvokkain ja kertoa mitä haluaisit tehdä. Vanhempiesi lisäksi tietenkin.

    Ykistyituntien kanssa se menee baletissa yleensä niin, että opettaja auttaa omasta tahdostaan jos oppilaalla on lahjakkuutta ja mahdollisuuksia. Oppilas sitten kiittää tekemällä parhaansa, eli kovasti töitä. Kysy opettajaltasi voisiko hän auttaa, tai suositella sulle jotain muuta. Variaatiota sun on kuitenkin liian vaikeata harkata ominpäin.

    No, toivottavasti kaikki menee parhain päin!

    t. Johanna

  10. Moi!
    En lähettänyt sähköpostia koska en saanut lupaa. Siis sähköpostini kun on etunimi.sukunimi. Mutta kiitos kauheasti kun viitsit vastata! Ja luen kyllä vielä blogiasi. :)

    T. OK


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, ...