One of the first things you would learn in a ballet class is to plier. It is a fundamental movement which prepares people for turns, jumps and many advanced steps. Although we won't be doing any fancy turns or jumps in our barre classes, there is still a huge advantage to those pliés. The word plier (plee-eh) is a French verb for the word fold. Taking it literally, we are folding (bending) at the knees to lower ourselves down vertically.
To paint a picture in your mind, think of a scissor lift. The basket is like your torso and it doesn't actually move. Because of the lift under the basket folding and expanding, the basket moves up and down. Same thing with pliés. The legs fold, tracking over the toes, and the torso stays stagnant.
Muscles at Play:
In a barre class, we use various types of pliés to engage our quads (top thigh). Depending on the position of the feet that we are utilizing for the plier, there will be various secondary muscles that are being utilized. Generally they could be the inner thigh, seat (glutes) and the calves.
Plié vs. Squat:
A squat is not something we do in a barre classes. Although they are a great way to work those glutes, we've got other moves to light up that behind! A squat is used for a variety of things, particularly for protecting your body while lifting weights or going all of the way down to the floor. Our weights don't get any bigger than 4 lbs., nor are we reaching for the floor during barre (Pound is a whole other ballgame!) so this isn't a concern. Our focus is on posture and small movements vs. lifting and gains. These different goals require different approaches.
More than Legs:
Although the movement is coming from your legs, the whole body is part of proper alignment. Your spine should be long and neutral, your tail bone should be pointed downwards and your gaze in front of you. Your hands will be pinned to your hip or the barre (unless directed otherwise). Your shoulders should be pulled down from your ears and your core muscles engaged. Your weight should be centered on your feet, perhaps slightly towards the outside if your knees are struggling to track over your toes.
Taking it Up a Notch:
A simple plié isn't engaging your legs enough for you? Lift your heels off the floor into a relevé position and watch the difficulty change. While in relevé, check back in with your alignment. Make sure that your weight is equally distributed through the balls of your feet and toes. It is important to have those core muscles engaged to protect your lower back and to maintain your balance. Often when we are in relevé we tend to sway our backs. Check in with your tail bone and make sure that it is still pointed downwards.
Remembering it All:
There are a lot of things to think about while doing your plié! That’s why you have an instructor in class to provide verbal cues and to help with your alignment as you go. Your muscle memory will start assisting you over time and you’ll remember the feeling of being in a plié vs. all of the details to get there.
When in doubt - ask!
Remember that your instructor is there to help - ask questions if you have them! I assure you that they love being asked and love having more reasons to engage with you. Flag us down during a move, raise your voice or ask us after class. Whatever you are most comfortable with.
Even taking one tip with you into each class, your plie will get progressively stronger. No one is expecting you to show up to the studio with perfect alignment or to be all knowing about every move. Remember why you come to barre in the first place. It's abo investing in yourself and growing.
Can't wait to see you at the barre!