Plié. [plee-AY] Bent, bending. A bending of the knee or knees.
No other step is more important to moving gracefully than plié. This first step of ballet has the power to transform every move you make because it teaches how to support the spine as the knees bend and straighten with good alignment. Whether you’re in a studio or grocery shopping, knowing how to hold your body and bend your knees with control develops pliable knee, hip, and ankle joints, powerful legs, a tall spine, strong core, and balance.
There are two types of pliés: Demi-plié is a “half” bending of the knees with the heels fully on the floor. Grand plié is a full bending of the knees until the thighs are horizontal with the floor. The principles of alignment are the same for each; however, grand plié provides more intensive leg strengthening and balance training.
The Power of Plié
In terms of ballet, demi–plié forms the basis of all leaps and turns. A good plié gives takeoffs and landings the hallmark power and softness that define the graceful ballet dancer. Bending the knees provides power for every movement while absorbing force and protecting the spine.
Learning how to move with a combination of good posture and controlled use of the knees benefits everything from balance and coordination to strength, stamina, and accuracy. So if you’re interested in performing better at sports or almost any other activity, cultivating a good plié could be a game changer! (And you’ll look more graceful, too!)
Proper Plié How-To
You don’t need special coordination or ballet training to reap the benefits of doing pliés. It’s best to do the following barefoot or wearing socks or ballet slippers.
With heels touching, turn the toes out to a gentle 1st position. You should feel comfortable and stable. If you feel off balance, reduce the turn-out of the toes until you feel stable. You can also hold onto a chair. Otherwise, place hands on hips.
Feel the entire ball and heel of each foot on the floor.
Check in with your tailbone–Is it poking back? Is it pressing forward? Try to relax the tailbone so that it descends naturally over the heels.
Hug in your core, while releasing the neck and shoulders.
Gently bend the knees over the toes. Heels remain on the floor.
Straighten the knees smoothly. Continue to release the tailbone and pull in the core throughout the entire plié.
In the beginning, hold onto a chair or countertop for extra balance.
With heels together, toes apart in 1st position, bend knees into demi-plié.
Continue bending the knees smoothly until the thighs are horizontal to the floor. The heels will naturally disengage from the floor as you go down. There is no need to lift the heels.
When the thighs are horizontal to the floor, begin straightening the knees smoothly. Be sure to pass through demi-plié (with the heels on the floor and knees bent over toes) on the way up.
NOTE: The deeper the bend of the knees, the more the spine tends to tilt forward. Be sure to keep an upright spine throughout by hugging in your core!
Grand plié significantly engages the core and backs of the legs. If you are not feeling the backs of the legs in grand plié, chances are your spine is tilting forward and your tailbone is poking backwards. To find proper alignment, lessen the bend of the knees and straighten up the spine until you feel the backs of the legs. You can deepen the bend of the knees over time as you become stronger.
You may wish to begin with hands on a chair or countertop. As you become stronger and more balanced, you can do this exercise in the center of the room with your hands on your hips.
Place heels together, toes apart in 1st position.
Do 2 demi-pliés and 1 grand plié. Be sure to bend and straighten slowly and smoothly.
Repeat the sequence 8 times.
Separate the heels approximately 18 inches, with toes gently apart. This is 2nd position.
Do 2 demi-pliés and 1 grand plié in 2nd position. Heels should remain on the floor the entire time when doing pliés in 2nd position. Only bend the knees as far as you are also able to keep an upright spine with knees over toes and heels on the floor.
Repeat the sequence 8 times.
Hooray for Plié!