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Ballet Talk for Dancers

"Controlling" the Depth Of Demi Plie


305Danseur

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This is a problem I have had floating around in my mind for years as I had a mild case of tendonitis 4 years ago while in my pre-pro training program. At the time I was diagnosed by the Dance Physiotherapist in the Physical Therapy department as having tendonitis and adhesions along the tendon sheath. I was told to stay in class and not to jump or do releve work on the injured side and to basically play it safe while I met with the PT twice a week to do active release therapy, soft tissue massage and strengthening and stretching exercises as well as ultrasound therapy. I was basically given the works. about a month later I was back to normal and have never had another flare up.

 

Until now, that is. Just this past week I have some pain along the achilles while I'm walking around. It's certainly been brought on by lots and lots of variation rehearsals. Anyway the question I have right now is concerning the prevention of this kind of pain as well as safely managing it once the pain has gone away. I know how to deal with the treatment of the injury but in terms of working around, and preventing it. I would like to know this: in doing petit allegro work and just simple demi plie at the bar is there a mechanism in place (like the quads?) that should "regulate" how deep a safe demi plie ought to be? It was decided that I generally do not have very long achilles tendons, but that I am rather hypo mobile. So if I am warm and am stretching I can access a rather deep stretch in demi plie although I don't personally think that achieving that depth of demi plie would be advisable during petit allegro or even in a pirouette preparation.

 

Many teachers, coaches and directors have consistently told me to use more of my plie and to really get to the bottom of it. The problem is that I feel that in doing so I feel a little reckless in releasing myself that deeply into my achilles and soleus muscles. Couldn't that aggravate or cause a flare up of tendonitis or micro tears?? It just does not seem like the sensation I out to have while I am dancing should be the same as the one I have when I am actively stretching my calfs and achilles. I also have understood that one should keep the arches of the feet and calf muscles engaged when doing plie as to control the "deceleration" from demi pointe to demi plie. That sounds right but couldn't that also cause irritation or tears in that u are engaging the same muscles that should be releasing in order to achieve a deeper plie?

 

Basically my question is how deep should a safe demi plie be in jumps, releves and turn preparations and is there a muscle group that we should be using to regulate this "safe" depth?

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Mel Johnson

Hi; I've moved this to Men's as it's really a technique question rather than anything medical. As I assume that you are receiving treatment for the achilles pain, I won't go there, as you haven't asked about treatment.

 

Good practice in class and rehearsal is to manage the demi-plié without pushing so hard into it, particularly in the early phases of barre, that pain, even a little "pinch" or twinge is felt. A lot of guys push into it without regard to the danger signal and pay for it, sooner or later. Start by relaxing into demi-plié and "pull up in order to go down". It sounds as if you are working at a high enough level to judge what you are doing in fast work so that your knees keep tracking on the same line with your toes, thus saving you the trouble of stress on the knees and ankles from that bad practice. There really is no isolation of the leg muscles that controls a plié, the whole assembly works on it in a coordinated manner, plus the hips and back.

 

Make sure you start the barre by doing things gently, and as it progresses, then you can relax farther into the plié. Fondu movements help you get and keep control of the bent limb. The quads control the straightening of the knee, so make sure that you aren't tightening them when you want to bend the leg. That will shorten the movement.

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