Monday, March 14, 2011

Psychoanalysis of a plie... part 1

Personal disclaimer: I have always hated plies. I hated putting my heels down in jumps. I love a deep grande plie in second right in the beginning of class, but there's something about the slowing down of a plie that has always jarred me. As a more mature dancer, I am finding the beauty of developing a deeply personal relationship with the plie. This is extremely difficult, but I expect it will be eternally rewarding.

First things first. For those unfamiliar, a plie (spelled with an accent over the e but because of technical difficulties, I cannot post the accent) is pronounced "plea-eay." Simply put, a plie is a bending of the knees. A grande plie is a deep bending of the knees, usually accompanied by the lowering of the entire torso in conjunction with proper alignment. The ankles relax, the knees glide over the toes in space, the pelvis rests on the femur bones, the spine lengthens, the rib cage softens, the shoulders are over the pelvis, and the head floats on top of the spine. For many, it is easier to "stick out the bootie" when doing a plie. I tell my students that, when working in classical techniques, "it's not that kind of dance..." Shifting the pelvis behind the torso and the femur heads (the femur is the loooooong thigh bone) allows for more space in the hip joints and a deeper range of motion of the pelvis, but it provides a rather awkward position for the mover.

Today, in pointe class, Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo emphasized the importance of the plie. She said something that I translated as "The plie creates a connection between you and the floor. It grounds you in and with the earth. It allows your joints to open." No wonder we so often leave the floor (for example, in a jump) after a plie! My joints are open. My body is totally receptive to the energies of the earth to which I am connecting. I am grounded in the earth and my body is a transmitter of its energy. A conduit. Through this simple connection of opening and receiving, I am taking in all of the power of the earth and allowing it to explode, or softly pulse in and through my body. The amazing tragedies of Japan's recent earthquake are humbling examples of the power of the earth to which I am connecting! And yet... my body does not shake or implode. My body receives and transmits and I can control the dissemination of this powerful energy. wow....

Today in class, Dr. Laura also had us stay in plie for a count before springing out for a tendu or echappe. After four consecutive performances and continuous rehearsals over the past eight (or really, 36) weeks, my body is admittedly tired. In class or performance, I am ready to keep going - to keep pushing - to keep working! BUT! PLEASE don't ask me to be grounded for a moment or to stay visually (illusionary) still. In that moment, all of my fatigue sets in. My body grows heavy. It is (only) the circular energy of the plie - the circular energy of the earth drawing up, being released, falling and returning only to be drawn up again - that propels me to lengthen and explode into the next movement.

As I reflect on the plie, it is so completely organic. My mind sours back to a seventh grade science textbook that displayed the cycle of water: evaporating from a pond or lake into the atmosphere, clouding, raining or snowing, and returning to the pond or lake. I picture molecules vibrating in space. Time slows and one of the Discovery Channel's micro-lenses engulfs my mind. The wooden floor is solid no more, but a series of tightly compacted small red balls vibrating. My body is another set of tightly compacted small balls (but I think they are multicolored because the chakras are multicolored and for some reason, I picture my body being somewhat separate from the wooden floor, even though in reality they are probably made of the same materials vibrating at different speeds.... which may produce different colors. So I'll stick with my multicolored body theory...). The atmosphere between me, the other dancers, the floor, the piano, the mirrors, and the barres is a thick open space with some blue balls (air? water vapor?) vibrating at a lower frequency. When I plie, my joints open, allowing more space between my multicolored vibrating balls. I am connected with the floor, so the red balls of the wooden floor move into the now open spaces of my body. When I straighten, my entire body expands because of the contraction of the additional energy/ vibrating balls and releases into the larger atmosphere of the studio.

This idea of vibrating molecules is so deeply spiritually, physically, and emotionally grounding. In essence, the plie allows the earth and the ground to support and rejuvenate me. During the brief period of the plie, I simply (???) need to allow my joins and my body to open to be receptive to this energy!

If only I could heal the world through plies...

Having this imagery revealed to me makes the plie no less daunting. I am looking forward to investigating it further... to attempting to allow it (the plie and its ensuing energetic forces) to move me. to move through me.

Clearly, this requires more research. Until then, dear readers, I encourage you: don't stick out your booties and embrace the depth of the plie. I'll be joining you in this endeavor. Let's report back.


  1. Jessica,

    I love the title of this's what pulled me in to your page to read your thoughts on the plié. I CAN post an accent on plié, as I live in Mexico and have a keyboard in "Español"!

    I just want to say how I enjoyed your reflections on classical ballet and am reminded of my own.

    Keep it up. I'll be coming back to read and hope you can visit my blog soon and perhaps we can guest write on each others blogs!

    Happy New Year 2013!


    -Romy Macias

  2. Romy, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I might have to invest in a new keyboard... I'm looking forward to reading your writing and sharing this dancing journey with you! Happy New Year!