See that up there? It’s fifth position demi-plié in a class at the former Knoxville Ballet School, as executed by some of my Level 2-almost-Level 3 students. And that’s my lovely friend Joan Kunsch of Nutmeg Conservatory teaching them; I had invited her for a springtime guest appearance. As you can see, the girls have (relatively) straight spines, with knees over toes, as they should. That was a class of sweet kids, a bit tricky to teach, as some of them were late arrivals to the ballet world. But they each had an amazing work ethic in class and it was my privilege to teach them.
Plier is the infinitive, and it means simply “to bend.” Plié is the participle, meaning bent or bending. We go down, we come up. That’s it. (Well, there is more about energy and placement, but the downy-uppy part will suffice for my purposes here.) It is the most basic and important movement in all of classical ballet because, as Raymond Lukens would say, it’s the take-off and landing for almost every single movement in ballet. Oh, and the “demi” part? It just means half—you bend the knees half way and then you stretch, or straighten them. There is also a “grand” version, meaning “big,” where you go all the way down and come back up (at least, we hope you come back up).
But I digress. This post is not about the proper execution of this all-important movement. It is about my recent foray into the world of pumping iron.
Yeah, we don’t do pliés in Pump You Up class: we squat. And we squat and we squat and we squat. We squat holding free weights and barbells. And we squat to loud, pulsating, Pump You Up music. We drop our backs and stick out our booties. It is about as far away as one could possibly migrate from a plié.
That is the first univeral truth. The second one is, I am evidently hearing something else in that music, because when I am down, with my booty sticking waaaay out there, everybody else always seems to be up. And vice versa.
Okay, friends, I am a very musical person. You can’t NOT be musical and dance (see Raymond Lukens, above). That, and I am also a classically trained musician (piano and classical guitar, a story for another day). I have spent more than a decade at the front of various ballet classrooms urging my students to soak up every drop of music in each phrase. (That one is mine, not Raymond’s.) Kids like to rush. You can’t rush the music in classical ballet. Unless you are big star, and then you are called a diva.
I have concluded that the Pump You Up teachers and the other students are anxious to finish, ergo our being out of sync. I totally get that—I am anxious as hell to get out of that class about a nanosecond after it starts. I do it because I assume it’s probably good for me. You know: kinda like eating fish oil. It tastes awful, but there must be some benefit, right? No pain, no gain, and all that.
But rushing the music feels as unnatural to me as sticking out my bum in a demi-plié.
Here is some weight lifting, ballerina-style. They’re my kids, being silly when I asked them to get out the barres.
I leave you with beautiful footage of England’s Royal Ballet in company class as taught by ballet mistress Olga Evreinoff. Yeah, it’s a long video, but the pliés are right at the start. Have a look-see, and hang around for the rest of it, should you be so inclined. They are lovely.
Gotta go work on trying to look glamorous and magnificent whilst sticking out my booty.