In the fourth issue of my ballet steps series, I discuss the plié, a fundamental movement which forms the basis of many other steps. It is a bend of the knees that may be either demi (half) or grand (full), and is typically performed as the first exercise at the beginning of ballet class.
Pliés can be performed in all positions of the feet - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th (open and crossed) and 5th. In all positions, the heels stay on the floor in demi-plié; in grand plié, the heels come off the floor, except in 2nd and open 4th.
The picture above shows a young dancer demonstrating both demi and grand pliés in 1st position. This is how I teach the movement to students - I ask them to face the barre and stand in 1st position, before bending the knees as far as possible without lifting the heels. This can be referred to as 'diamond position' for young children as the shape made between the legs forms a diamond shape. The key corrections given to students are regarding posture - keeping the body upright and especially not sticking out their bottoms! - and turn-out, which means ensuring the knees bend outwards, over the toes.
Once a demi-plié has been mastered in 1st, 2nd and 3rd position, I proceed to teach the full plié, for which the same corrections apply. 4th position is technically the hardest plié position to achieve and is therefore typically not introduced until Intermediate or Advanced level.
Most ballet classes commence with a plié exercise at the barre to warm up the muscles, with pliés performed in three or four different positions, combined with port de bras (arm and upper body movements), rises (onto the balls of the feet) and other simple movements.
As the plié forms the basis of so many steps, it is found in every ballet, but usually only used as a preparation for more complex steps such as jumps and pirouettes. However, Sylvie Guillem, demonstrates to the left how a simple plié in 2nd position can be used to great choreographic effect, with only the minor enhancement of one lifted heel and a striking arm line.