Two of the first “real” ballet steps we teach in our preschool ballet classes are plie and tendu. These are also almost always the first two exercises older dancers do at the barre in ballet class. Why? Because these two steps are ballet at it’s most basic. Litterally, “plie” means “to bend” and “tendu” means “to stretch” in French.
When done correctly, both steps require the dancer to turn her legs out from her hips. When a dancer “plies,” her knees should go out over her toes. From above, her knees should cover her toes. If she can see her toes when she plies, she isn’t holding her turnout. When a dancer plies or tendus, a dancer should think of her legs as spiraling around like the stripes on a candy cane.
Plie is the start and end of any traveling step in ballet. We plie before taking off into the air, and we land in plie. While we’re in the air, our legs are often long and straight with pointed feet—essentially a tendu. When we turn, we begin in plie and end in a plie. It may be a plie one one leg, or a lunge, but it is still a plie. But we also have to keep our standing leg straight and strong—something required in tendu.
When young dancers, especially the “itty-bitties,” have a hard time relating a more tedious exercise like plies or tendus. I try to remind them of what the step builds into. Plies and tendus are a foundation to so much more in ballet.
So if you want to start a conversation with your little ballerina about something she did in ballet class, ask her about plies and tendus. If she’s young enough to be in a preschool ballet class, ask her to show you a plie or a tendu. If she’s older, ask her what other steps she knows or has learned recently that use a plie or a tendu. I bet she’ll know a few if she thinks about it!