Plie’s, Popping and Power!

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

Demi-plie´ Maximal knee flexion reached
by knees before heels rise

The proper mechanics of a demi-plie´

Closely associated with the body’s dynamic alignment, the first position demi-plié in ballet is a coordinated turned-out movement of flexion and extension of the hip, knee, and ankle, with the foot remaining flat on the floor. Demi-plié constitutes the basis of numerous dance movements, like jumping, and is taught to dance students from the earliest classes. It is frequently the first movement performed at the beginning of ballet class, and is subsequently repeated in almost every dance sequence during the training session. Despite its artistic importance and apparent simplicity, anecdotal evidence suggests that 95% of dancers do not plie correctly, while many dancers, teachers, and health professionals remain surprisingly unaware of the biomechanics and anatomy of this primary and fundamental movement. Like any other dance movement, when incorrectly performed, demiplié can eventually lead to overuse injuries.  Unwanted movements frequently observed during the demi-plié include:

*A “rolling over” of the feet, especially prevalent in young dancers, characterized by having only two points of contact with the floor, the first metatarsal and the heel bone;

*A “sway back,” with excessive external rotation, unsupported core stability, and excessive activity in the quadriceps (especially the rectus femoris, which has a tendency, due to its attachment on the anterior inferior iliac spine, to rotate the pelvis forward into an anterior tilt, which in turn destabilizes the entire spine)

*An “over-recruitment of the biceps femoris,”(the hamstring muscle located toward the lateral or outer side of the thigh ) especially in elite ballet dancers, which can disrupt dynamic alignment and diminish technical brilliance. [1]

Why does my hip make that ‘snapping’ sound?!

The ‘‘snapping hip’’ refers to a click with a snapping sensation that occurs during movement of the thigh. Lateral (toward the outside of your hip) snapping on the hip corresponds to motion of the iliotibial band (ITB) over the greater trochanter.

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Medial (internal) snapping that occurs medial (more toward the inside) or anterior (front) to the hip is caused by the iliopsoas tendon moving across the femoral head. Lateral snapping more commonly affects the supporting leg while attempting turnout or when landing from jumps, as the hip extends from a flexed position. Medial snapping mainly affects the gesturing leg (non-weight-bearing limb), causing a painful arc when performing semicircular motion around the torso to bring the hip into extension from a flexed, adducted, and externally rotated position (ronde de jambe). The snapping sensation is usually audible and palpable to the examiner on movements that reproduce the symptom.

The snapping sensation may be painless; however, over time, it can turn painful and limit dance activities. Physical examination of the lateral snapping hip may demonstrate local tenderness behind the greater trochanter and ITB tightness with a positive Ober’s test result (a special test that identifies tight ITB). Physical examination findings of medial snapping include pain on resisted motion of the iliopsoas and symptoms while moving through the painful arc. Treatment can be initiated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy modalities, and ambulation devices for unloading (taking stress off of) the joint.

Therapeutic exercises should promote stretching of the involved muscles, iliopsoas, and ITB. Treatment goals should include correction of posture and technique as well as strengthening of the hip musculature. For refractory cases of medial snapping, one may consider the use of an MRI study to rule out intra-articular pathologic findings and referral for surgical release or lengthening. [3]

Surprising news on stretching and warm up protocols for dancers

Stretching is commonly included in the warm-up procedure before participation in physical activities, like dance, as it is utilized to enhance performance and prevent injury. In addition to the demand for power and control, dancers are expected to display large ranges of motion. As a result of this particular requirement, it is thought that dancers are prime candidates for engaging in excessive static stretching (stretching and holding without moving) prior to class or performance. In recent years, the use of static stretching has been called into question. The literature points toward a reduction in muscular performance after static stretching.
Currently, two theories aim to explain the reduction in efficiency caused by pre-performance static stretching. It has been found that static stretching reduces stiffness. This may negatively alter the length-tension and force-velocity relationships, thus lowering the rate of force production. In other words, you stretch the power right out of your muscles! The second theory involves the neurological system. A number of studies show that static stretching reduces neural drive(nerve-based  motor command), which may lead to an inhibition of optimal muscle activation or premature muscle fatigue.
In contrast to static stretching, support for dynamic stretching (stretching as you move) prior to performance is growing. The acute effects of dynamic stretches have been shown to enhance many aspects of sports performance, such as lower leg power, vertical jump performance, agility, and strength.
These findings should promote the use of a dynamic stretch routine prior to engaging in sport or dance. The mechanisms responsible for the increases in performance have not been thoroughly investigated. However, recent research has shown that dynamic stretching causes an increase in electromyographic activity (EMG: records activity in skeletal muscles). This increase in muscle activation suggests a “postactivation potentiation” effect (PAP:enhanced muscle force output after heavy resistance training). This phenomenon would encourage muscle contractions to be more rapid and forceful, thus enhancing the explosive aspects of athletic and dance performance. [2]
And who doesn’t want to be more explosive while jumping on stage?!
So, what do these three subjects have to do with each other?  A well-executed plie is like having a powerful rocket booster in your body.  When properly activated, jumps can be explosive and landings safe.  A snapping hip more commonly affects jump landings. Proper warm up can negatively or positively effect both the depth of plies and the ability to jump high.  Like many movements in dance, they are interrelated and oftentimes the success of one depends on the approach and understanding of the other.

Until next time, dance healthy and long, friends!

Janine Bryant
Co-Director of Dance
Faculty of Biokinetics, Education
and the Campolo College for Graduate and Professional Studies
Eastern University, St. Davids Pa.
Next article will include:  Local resources, dance medicine and science practitioners and sports medicine physicians who specialize in treating dancers.

Resources:

1. Coulliandre A., et al, Exploring the effects of kinesiological awareness and mental imagery on movement intention in the performance of a demi plie, J of Dance Medicine and Science, 2008; 12(3): 91-98

2. Morrin N., Redding E., Acute effects of warm-up stretch protocols on balance, vertical jump height and range of motion in dancers. J of Dance Medicine and Science, 2013;17(1):34-40.

3. Motta-Valencia K., Dance related injury, J of Phys Med and Reh Clinics of N Am, 2006;17: 697-723.

 

About Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Senior Lecturer in Dance, Faculty of Performing Arts at University of Wolverhampton in The United Kingdom. She originally hails from Pennsylvania, USA and was the former Chair of Dance and Director of the Dance Program at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. There she taught courses for Dance, Biokinetics/Kinesiology at the Loeb School of Education, as well as at the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than twenty years.

Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986. Janine is an active member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science and was recently added to their Peer Review Board, Poster Judging Committee and Education Committee. Janine also is a member of PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association) and is currently earning her PhD in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom.

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