The demi-plie is the foundational move in ballet and is essential to its physicality and artistry. Every element in ballet has the demi-plie at its very core. From studio to stage, everything that a ballet dancer attempts to accomplish as an artist begins and ends with the demi-plie.
At the beginning of the barre, demi-plies accomplish much for the dancer. Plies begin to warm up the joints of the feet, ankles, knees and hips, assist in the development of flexibility of the muscles in the lower body and bring an awareness of the turn-out in the hip sockets. The alignment, balance and control of demi-plies are the strengthening foundations for the look and carriage of the ballet dancer. The repeated, continuous motion of the plie in all the basic ballet positions is instrumental in learning the connected transitions between steps in the center. And the action of demi-plie at the barre is the basic essential in the development of muscle memory for pliable, cushioned landings in jumps.
However, the physical training achieved by demi-lie at the barre is just one aspect of its importance in ballet. Coordinated with the breath, the plie begins the process of mental focus and concentration, a mindset of preparation that is necessary for the dancer to be able to dance in the center and later, on stage. Also, many dancers speak of the emotional security that comes with the “ritual” of starting with plies at every class, day in and day out, year after year. They understand that it is the process they must go through to leave behind the world outside the studio and begin their transformation into dancers. Executing a plie is one the first moments of intentional movment in dance. In initiating a plie one says, “I am a dancer.” In that sense it is a movement of great import. For many, executing preparatory demi-plies brings about a deep sense of serenity as those whose hearts are captured by ballet let their inner dancers surface.
As the dancer begins to practice in the center, it is aparent that the plie initiates almost all movement. In the center the plie is the study of the dancer’s relationship with the floor. Plie means “bent’ and in bending and recovery the dancer uses active resistance against the floor which can propel him or her in any direction, achieve height in jumps and build torque to enable a turn. It is the tension between the dancer and the floor through the plie that makes these movements possible.
The plie also has an intrinsic relationship to music. A dancer’s musicality is revealed with the execution of the plie. Dancers who truly listen to their music will exhibit a noticeably pliable and smooth plie which seems to have no beginning or end, giving them the facility to further express the music through connectedness of movement. The plie facilitates whatever movement is required by the music, be it soft and light or powerful and strong.
The artistry of the ballet dancer and his or her transformation into character requires the best of the dancer’s technique and is born with the first movements of the plie. Could the Bluebird fly in Sleeping Beauty without the plie to enable his series of spectacular brisees? Could Giselle be a real Wili without the plie? Watching her pas de deux with Albrecht, her use of the plie creates a spectre that is lighter than air. Without the plie, Giselle as a Wili is just not possible.
Even the audience has a ‘relationship’ with the demi-plie. They understand the tension of the plie as a device used to great affect to build excitement. Hasn’t every ballet fan thrilled with anticipation as the dancer makes his preparation into a fourth position plie, knowing the he is about the execute a spectacular series of pirouettes; or the child-like wonder of the pas de deux where the ballerina’s plie is a prelude to assisted pirouettes that make her look just like a dancer on a music box?
Finally, no ballet class is complete without the reverence, and no ballet performed without bows and curtsies at the end. The demi-plie awaits the dancer even there, when all is done and spent. From beginning to end, the plie has carried the dancer, defined the dancer. From preparing the body, mind and spirit at the barre, to being propelled through space in the center, to the bending surrender to the music and interpretation of a role on stage, all these things point to the plie not only as the most important movement in ballet, but, even deeper, I see the plie as a symbol of possibility and a deeply creative force that drives all dancers. Without the plie there is no dancer, there is no dance.
© Lauran M. Callan and brilliantdance, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lauran M. Callan and brilliantdance with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.