Time to talk..
When I think about plies as a musician, my mind immediately goes to long and slow. When I was first learning to accompany for ballet, plies were a safe haven since they were the easiest to play for. Later on, as I became more confident in my ability and in my understanding of accents, rhythms, etc, it became something dull and often boring for me. Now, in my 'old' age of experience accompanying ballet, I love them.
I love the weight and elasticity of the movement. I love the breath. I love the fact that it is one of the most flexible exercises for your students to respond to the music in that it's not as physically extenuating as adagios often are and not are exact and particular rhythmically compared to most of the footwork exercises.
There is something beautiful in the simplicity of a plie exercise!
All of that to say, let's explore the music that supports (or doesn't) the plie exercise!
Physically you know what qualities you're looking for in your dancers; breath, extension of the port de bras, releasing into the plie, heels pressing down to rise back up, the rotation of the leg muscles to press up, etc.
The question really is, what kind of music supports what you're looking for?
Slow triple meter music (the most common preference in my experience) is the most common for plies. I think this is because they often have very flow-y and note-y qualities to them. While counting these two triple meter styles of music is identical for you, dancer count wise, you would be wise to select a 6/8 because of the music phrasing and accents!
Both of these triple meter musics have an accent on beat 1; however, the 6/8 has a second pulse of 3 in the bar/measure that is not as strongly accented (because it's in the middle of the bar/measure) which enables the long phrases of a plie exercise to be more consistently supported, as well, your students are less likely to pop up out of their demi plies because the even dancer counts are NOT as accented!
*Here are 4 dancer counts of adagio triple meter. Notice the 4 accents in the 3/4 vs. the 2 accents in the 6/8.
Adagio 3/4 : 1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a (Or as a musician counts it, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3)
Adagio 6/8: 1 & a 2 & a, 3 & a 4 & a (Or as a musician counts it, 1 2 3 4 5 6, 1 2 3 4 5 6)
How does all of this music knowledge apply to you as a ballet teacher? Remember those qualities of movement you're looking for in the plie? Which of them would be supported by a count followed by an "& a' the note-y-ness of a triple meter?
The breath or extension in the port de bras whether during a plie or in a bend are supported by this music. Encouraging your students to fill the music and not just pop up is supported by the drawn out time between dancer counts. The demi plie is not rushed because of the extra time between the dancer counts! On the downside, if your music is too slow, the grand plie can feel really long.
The slow duple meter for plies is much less common. Partly I think, it's hard to count for many! For some reason the slow duple meter feels 'empty' between the dancer counts if all you count is an '&'. Often the space between dancer counts ends up getting filled with an '& a' very naturally if the teacher isn't paying attention! Take heart if that's you, it's SOO common! lol. The space between the dancer counts feels somewhat empty and less supported when all you have is that single '&'; am I right?
*Side note: when I'm playing for a company level class and I get to choose my own plie music, I'll often go with a 4/4 because I KNOW it's good for me and the dancers to learn to use that time signature more capably. Everyone has to be more intelligent using duple meter for plies. This is because dancers only get an '&' between dancer counts to get from count to count (there is little extra time to think and correct!). I used to find it a challenge to get the plie quality and breath when I played duple meter, now not so much thanks to all the practice!
Adagio Duple Meter (4/4 or 2/4): 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & (Or as a musician counts it 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4)
The value of this music is that your dancers really need to know the exercise since there is little wiggle room to correct and catch up in time for the next count; because of this, the duple meter is wonderful for 'get(ting) 'r done'. I also really enjoy the 4/4 for it's grand plie quality! The triple meter can get really LONG for those deep plies but the duple meter is just the right amount of time!
Tango: 1 a2 & 3 a4 & (Or as a musician counts it 1 + 2 + ,1 + 2 + )
The tango can be kind of sassy for a plie since it's got that pull into the second beat of each measure/bar (or the even dancer counts in your case). This can be really fun for any releves or port de bras inside your exercise! However, if you're working on controlled through-the-music movement, this is not your music!
Whether filling the music with lovely demi plies, fabulous grand plies or spunky releves, there is always a great piece of music for top quality plies!
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