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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Weight Distribution in Plies


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I have always known that my plies have looked kind of funny, but I haven't figured out what made them look that way. I have known that I have had a hard time keeping my knees over my feet, but I couldn't figure out how to keep them back. Well, suffering from swelling of the knee (related to some old injuries), I figured I really better examine those plies, especially since we have been doing a lot of jumping and turning, and, within the last couple of weeks, jumping and turning at the same time :rolleyes: .


Well, today I experimented by placing more weight on the inside of my foot, (especially underneath my big toe joint) because I noticed that there isn't a speck of dirt on the inside part of the outer soul of my ballet slipper. And, well, presto chango, my legs stayed back. It seemed like my inner thigh muscle just pushed my legs back. My question is, is this really too good to be true? Could I be exchanging one devil for another?

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hart, the weight distribution over the foot must be centered. It should not be more on the outside or the inside of the foot. However, the main thing is, if you are having ANY trouble with your knees, you must NOT do grand pliés at all, except maybe in second position. With demi plié be very sure that your weight is equally distributed and that your knees are over your toes. If the knees are swollen, do NOT jump! Ice them, take Ibuprofen, and wait for them to calm down. Then, correct the problem and still avoid grand plié for a while.

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Me, I was reading this without my glasses on, and read, "Weight distribution in piles". All I could think of to say was ouch ouch ouch.

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Mr. Johnson, :ermm: .


Ms. Leigh, thanks for the warning. I have been doing RICE + ibuprofen, and the swelling is gone. But being prone to taking on too much, I will heed your warning and make sure I give myself a couple extra days. I'm also finally going to an orthopedist about five years later than I should be :(, but, hey, at least I'm finally going.


With the plie thing, I think I have had my weight too far back, so I will try to get better distribution of my weight in the future. Thanks again.

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I agree with Victoria and Mel, the weight must be centered over the feet. I'm not sure what you're doing, but what you described of pushing the weight forward sounds suspiciously painful to me. Maybe you're throwing your shoulders back, or you have a pelvic tilt; if so you would benefit to correct both of these problems, although correcting them can take a long time and cannot be done over the Internet.


Here is what I teach about plie to my absolute beginners class: The way to get your knees to the side when you plie is to move your knees to the side. It's not about trying to "get the knees back", but rather moving them to the side.


Don't think of "bending" your knees when you plier. Think of moving your knees to the side, from the very start of the movement --- and your legs will have to bend to compensate for that. As your knees move further to the side, your legs will bend more. Keep moving your knees to the side until they won't move anymore. That's the end of your plie, even if you've only gone "a little bit down". DO NOT move any other part of your body, other than your knees, to try to make a bigger plie. Don't move your butt back, don't pronate your ankles, don't bend your lower back, etc.


When doing plie this way, especially in second position, you should notice a stretch in your groin muscles. If you're wearing pants, you'll notice they're stretching across your groin.


I suggest you start this process in second position; it's easiest to move the knees to the side in second position.


After I teach this and let the students try a few plies, I go around the room and check everyone to make sure their knees are moving over their feet. If the knees are not moving over the feet, I do a few things:

1. Check if the knees could have moved more to the side than they did --- it takes a little while to "get the hang" of it.

2. Check to see if the pelvis is level with the floor. Students usually come in with a pelvic tilt, which makes the knees go forward instead of side; a level pelvis allows for maximal turnout. It takes a while to develop the core strength to hold a level pelvis, but at least I check to see who's where in this respect. And I try to start the students on building awareness in that direction.

3. If the knees won't go any more side than they just did, I make the student turn in the feet to the point that the knees are now going over the feet. This eliminates rotation below the knees and reduces the possibility of knee injury.

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Citibob, I appreciate your feedback. Thanks! definitely have a tendency to swayback :ermm: I think what happened when I moved my weight forward a bit is that my pelvis seemed to become more centered, even on the way back up, which is when my legs tend to cave. I like your idea about thinking about moving to the side; what do you tell your students when they come back up to maintain turnout?

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Going "down", you think of moving the knees to the side.


Going "up", you think of rotating the legs outward while drawing the BACKS of the knees together. If you just draw the legs together without rotating them, you will lose your turnout. There has to be an active rotation on the way up. The reason why is the "two kinds of turnout" theory --- rotation when the legs are straight, "knee side" in plie. Rotation is harder for most people than moving knees side; hence, coming up out of the plie is harder than going down into it.


[Actually, I just tell my beginner students that turnout means their knees are pointing side; this works in all ballet positions, and (hopefully) does not encourage the forcing of the turnout]


As for the sway back: All I can say is keep your pelvis level. If you wear a belt, or (contrasting color) tights over your leotard, your waistline makes an oval that you can check for levelness in the mirror throughout ALL the exercises, especially in the center. I spent many weeks doing that on myself.


Later, I learned how to think of directly lengthing my spine. I'm not "pushing it backwards", but actively lengthening it from the tailbone to the top of the head. This kind of talk from ballet teachers made absolutely no sense to me for many years, it came gradually as I learned how to control my spine with the Feldenkreis exercises (which are like Yoga). Other than these types of exercises, I have no idea how to teach control of the spine, although it's very useful once you have it. For this reason, I don't think I can teach it in my 8 week Intro to Ballet class; I only tell the students they need to keep their pelvis level.

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I only tell the students they need to keep their pelvis level.

The problem is that a lot of them (if they're not adults) have no idea what the pelvis is! :thumbsup:

I usually make them imagine that they have a very long, heavy tail (attached to the spine) and that it drops to the floor. The tail (= tailbone!) is never up in the air, so the tailbone is always looking down.


Citibob, I like your idea of explaining that the knees go to the side... The only thing you also should check though, is if the foot itself is not sickled. By using the corkskew analogy (the rotation of the leg from the hip to the foot, in a corkskrew motion), you also make sure the foot is not tilted forward and sickled...


because I noticed that there isn't a speck of dirt on the inside part of the outer soul of my ballet slipper.
Hart, in your case, you may be doing the contrary (pronate the foot instead of keeping it 'level' with the floor).
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With regard to the pelvis tilt thing, one of my beginning instructors did a very helpful floor exercise to help us actually feel what the pelvis feels like when it is centered. This exercises uses two people. One person lays down on the floor on his/her back with her knees up, feet on the floor. In that position, your back is usually flat on the floor and your pelvis is relatively centered. The other person then actually holds the front of the pelvis in place (underneath the bone) with their hands as the person on the floor straightens his/her legs. Normally, your pelvis will tilt forward, creating a swayback. When it is held, you get what it feels like to keep your pelvis centered when you straighten your legs, as in plie. He used this to explain the importance of pulling up through the hips. This exercise was incredibly helpful for me in learning at a very experiential level what a centered pelvis feels like. It seems like it is especially helpful for people who have tight hip flexors, like I do.

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What you just described could lead to a backward tilted pelvis in some people. Though this is far less common than an anterior tilt, it can cause big issues for some dancers (I have this problem myself).


The problem I have is with the "flat" back analogy. The back should have a slight arch in the lumbar spine if the pelvis is level. A better way of feeling the correct alignment (in my opinion) is to hold the spine in a neutral position while detecting the sacrum's contact with the floor. There are reformer exercises which can help with the feeling of keeping a good pelvic alignment in plie, though pilates is performed less turned out.


Since most people tend to have an exagerrrated curve in the lumbar spine with an anterior pelvis, the "flat" back may actually build correct feeling for many people, but for many of us, it can be detrimental.


Can you tell I'm just bitter from having an "opposite" body? Most general corrections for pelvic alignment don't apply to me and in fact, cause the exact opposite sensations of what I want. It's so frustrating.

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I think that to get a level pelvis, one can most directly focus on the levelness of the pelvis. As Lampwick points out, the position of the back will be different for different people.


And to get an elongated spine, it helps to stretch the spine at both ends --- rather than thinking of pushing it "back".

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