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 Post subject: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 10:26 am 
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Quite some time ago we had a thread in which I posted some of my thoughts about grand pliés and the knees. Nancy's mention in the "Just a Little Story" thread of Dr. Hamilton reminded me of this. It was in his articles about dance and dance injuries in Dance Magazine way back in the early 1980's, I believe it was, that alerted me to this potential for harm. At the time I posted it I couldn't remember the doctor's name. He was also the doctor for New York City Ballet and a dancer himself.<P><BR>Basheva posted:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Ever wonder why ballet class always starts with plies'? Why that particular movement? I wondered about that myself until I read an interesting explanation. <BR>The largest arteries going to your legs pass through the groin and down the inside of the thighs. Blood supply to the muscles is stimulated when this artery is "rubbed" by the surrounding tissue. We naturally do this when something hurts - we rub it - even a small child does this instinctively. As the artery is stimulated the blood supply is increased and therefore the muscles, tendons, etc. are warmed and readied for use. So, it seems that doing plies' is the quickest way to warm up the lower extremities. Of course, plie' also begins to stretch the Achilles tendons, as well as the others.<P>In my opinion, grand plie' in first, fourth & fifth position should be eliminated. For the final 15 yrs that I taught (and for my own class too) I never did grand plie' in those positions. Instead I substituted two demi-plies' to fill out the music. I never noticed any adverse affects on either my dancing or that of my students, from eliminating these grand plies. On the contrary it saved a lot of knees. <P>My teachers used to argue about this, until I saw an article bearing out my thoughts in Dance Magazine. It was written by the orthopedic doctor to NYCB. He said that grand plie' in every position except 2nd was about the worst thing you could do to your knees. My teachers read this article - agreed with it - and continued to demand grand plies' from everyone - except me. I never had any knee trouble and am still taking ballet class.<P>I would be interested in what other teachers and students think of this. If you thought something was detrimental to you would you have the courage to tell the teacher and not do it?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>a further posting of mine:<P><BR> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>In the other positions it is less of an angle. And the doctor was saying that because the two large muscles (calf and thigh) would be impacting on each other - they would force the knee joint to open in a way it was never intended to do. Whereas in grand plie' in second position these two muscles never come in contact. <P>I taught a group of about 18 adults (it was a very stable group) for about ten years. During that time we had no knee problems. After I retired they went elsewhere, though we still kept in touch as friends. They would call me and tell me that as other teachers were giving them grand plies in lst, 4th and 5th position they began having knee problems. The sad thing was, that the other teachers would not allow them to substitute demi-plies - and so one by one these very dedicated ladies quit dancing.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Your thoughts?<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 3:48 pm 
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As of last spring, Dr. Hamilton was still an orthopedic consultant to New York City Ballet(according to a NYCB program I have from last May). I believe his wife is Linda Hamilton, the psychologist who used to dance with NYCB and writes the "Advice for Dancers" column for Dance Magazine.<P>I shied away from contributing to the thread on plies last time around. But (deep breath), here goes. I do teach grands plies in all positions but fourth. And I do introduce 4th as well, as a "you'd better know this exists, but we're not going to do it much" exercise. When I do present grand in 4th, I call it "half past demi" because we don't go all the way down. For adults, I do fewer grands. And because of recent reading, I'm curtailing use of them in my pre-teen and teen classes, where girls are going through growth spurts. Also if there is as much as a whisper about knee pain, they are out (does not happen often).<P>For me, a large part of the issue is how they are done. There are several crucial points here. First, I insist that grands in closed positions be performed with active thigh muscles. That means descending in a slow and controlled fashion. There is no squatting (no butts lower than knees) and no quick trip down only to "hang out" down there. Alignment is monitored, and I watch out for foot position at the base (many students roll to the outsides of their feet at the bottom of the plie; I think it simulates a feeling of turn-out for them). Then coming up requires careful training, especially at the moment one starts back up. The tendency is to let the thighs relax at that point. Students begin to focus on heels down, the thighs shorten, and there is strain on the knees (and an excellent opportunity to build bulk). I help them feel long through the thighs, as if someone is pulling out on their knees, and then of the knees pressing down over the toes. I don't know if this explanation will make sense to anyone; for me it is a very "hands on" part of class. I have had very few students with knee problems through the years (knock on wood!...), so I still see this as an exercise where the value outweighs the risk. But it is one area where the teacher must be extra attentive.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 3:52 pm 
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Sorry, my reply posted twice. The first time, my computer told me the message had not gone thru. I don't know how to undo it, so whoever does know, feel free!


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 3:54 pm 
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I just deleted the second post, Nancy - it's ok - it happens to everyone at some time or other. ..<P>Well, then, my next question would be since demi-plié, fully stretches the Achilles tendon, and the calves, of what value is going further into the full grand plié?


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 3:55 pm 
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I can see pluses and minues in grand plie. The do eccentric and concentric contractions in leg muscles, stretch Achilles tendon. I dont'do them in fourth, though; too funky for the knee joint. If we want to stimulate blood flow, there are other lower body exercises we could do. Hmmmmm. don't see how we could elminiate them, though...they are a part of a centuries old vocabulary. In Bournonville, I believe they're done a lot more, and often jumps will land in grand plie. I have to think more on this one. I think a lot of it depends on how it's taught.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 3:57 pm 
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Basheva, to answer your question, the hamstrings and quads work more intensely in grand plie, than demi. Also, gluteus maximus engages more in grand plie due to extreme angle of hip flexion. And engages more "on the way up" due to more stabiliztion of body weight required.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 4:07 pm 
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I think they do many things. They are a great lower body warmer-upper. You can really work on turn-out, on elongating and strengthening the thighs, on alignment. Beyond that, I'd have to think. And for me there is something to the "tradition" argument, as long as we are not causing harm. I don't teach any of the jumps that land in grand plie, or the pirouettes with a preparation from all the way down. And I don't use them in centre very much. Once in a while, in adagio. I'd rather have students holding on to the barre for these.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 4:51 pm 
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<BR>Though I am a traditionalist in almost every aspect, in this one regard I have foresaken tradition upon the advice of Dr. Hamilton with no detriment to my own dancing and that of my students.<P>It was Dr. Hamilton's magazine articles that changed my mind. Sometimes I think that tradition has to be re-thought.<P>His most cogent argument, one that really changed my thinking, was how the impact of those two large muscle groups - calves and thighs - coming together literally pulls the knee apart. He said that no amount of careful watchfulness on the part of the teacher could alter that simple fact. Though the plié is certainly not stagnant - those two large muscle masses do come together and literally pry the knee joint apart. <P>That really made sense to me.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 4:57 pm 
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I guess I should say what I do instead.....<P>Where there would be a grand plié, I do two demi-pliés instead, within the tempo of the music. Lots of stretching forward and back, side to side, ankle rotations, flexes, pointing and some relevé. I like to work on smoothing the action from the demi-plié, to straightening, to the relevé - working on a seamless transition. Also rotation of the head. I still always did grand plié, in second position because there was no impact on the knee. So, there was the full stretch of the derriere.<P>I found when this was well choreographed - I was just as warmed up - as were my students.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 6:09 pm 
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Trina what do you (and anyone else) think about grand plies in modern, like in Graham class, where we did them in the center all the time? And what about Horton technique that seems to use a lot of grand plies in the center, with more weight loading than Graham? The barre is never used so there's not even a practice run at them like in ballet class where you don't do grand plies (in the center) until the adagio. It never bothered me, and those who had issues were allowed to substitute demi's instead. I always felt it really grounded me and got me ready for big jumps. I have had tracking problems with my knees too, but because plies in the center are so controlled I never felt it was dangerous. <p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited March 25, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2001 11:39 pm 
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Hi Basheva,<P>I found this site. It's too long for me at the moment, but it might be interesting.<BR>It seems to be a class from Mrs . Hamilton.<BR> <A HREF="http://www.panix.com/~twp/dance/ballet_2.htm" TARGET=_blank>http://www.panix.com/~twp/dance/ballet_2.htm</A> <P>It's quite long, isn't it?<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2001 1:12 am 
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I just came back. After reading my posting, i think, it isn't miss Linda Hamilton from the New york city ballet.<P>But still, the story - from a beginners view - is very interesting. <P>So, i'm sorry to keep you up from your discussion about plié Image<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2001 6:47 am 
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What Dr. Hamilton has to say is very frightening from an anatomical point of view. As I work grand plie from the outside, to try to understand this, my conclusion is that calf and thigh muscle masses do come in contact and the knee joint is vulnerable if you go down too far. If you support the movement, and don't take it to a squat, the joint isn't opening that far (at least that is how it feels on my body). Is it farther than in civilian movement? Of course, but so is everything else in ballet.<P> Dr. Hamilton wrote those articles a long time ago. Has there been any more research since? He is well respected in the NY dance community, his wife danced at NYCB, and as far as I know, most teachers in NY still start their classes with grands plies. So I'm wondering if this is a case where theoretical concerns and practical results may differ somewhat. On the other hand, it may be more similar to smoking: we all know that's bad for us, but many do it anyhow. I just don't know. Definitely food for thought. Of interest to me, Basheva, is the fact that you've found over the long term, that NOT doing grands plies has not hindered anyone's technique.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2001 7:08 am 
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Berry - that was a most interesting article - it really was. A terrific perspective from a beginner's point of view. Thank you for posting it.<P>Nancy, I can categorically state that I have not done a grand plié in any position, except second, since 1978 with no detriment to my dancing. I did not retire from dancing until four years ago. <P>There is no doubt in my mind that it saved me from knee problems.<P>It never hindered my students either, one of whom was accepted to the SAB summer school. And several went on to dance at other schools.<P>Whether it is wise to re-think this tradition or not, each must decide for herself. But that is my experience.


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 Post subject: Re: Pliés and the Knees......
PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2001 8:54 am 
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Marie...grand plie in Graham and Horton. Good question---have to think about it. Graham technique is VERY hard on knees and hips. Martha herself had PERFECT 180 degree turnout, and the technique was made on her body. Those of us who don't have that have that to modify. Most Graham teachers will let you modify these days, but in the "old days" they didn't. As a result there are a number of Graham dancers (older generation)who have major arthritic problems, and hip replacments-Jane Dudley and May O'Donnell (I THINK) are two who come to mind. Also, because a full Graham floor takes 30-45 minutes (depending on the teacher), it tends to make folks tight in the hips (all that sitting with hip flexion)...you have to do a lot of stretching not to get "bound" in hips and hamstring muscles. Horton I'm not familiar with---I do know that all those grand plies and hinges are a killer on the knees and quads. But I think the mentality in the old days was "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.."...now we have a different philosophy. Though I do confess, that I find some modern dancers rather weak in the core and not very "weighted" these days....they could use some strengthening in core muscles---(think Pilates or yoga!!!)<P>Ballet grand plies---still thinking!! Basheva...I know some other teachers who have similar point of view to yours.<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited March 26, 2001).]


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