Forget about those skinny girls in tutus moving across the stage on their toes. Ballet for fitness is a winner for anyone of any body type, regardless of age, height, or weight. The study of ballet gives you complete workouts yielding great strength, stamina, and physical endurance, as well as a beautifully toned and sculpted body. Even if you have an injury, weakness, or disability, a good teacher knows how to adapt the technique so you can reap its many benefits. If you want to feel your best, you might find that ballet addresses many body issues that are holding you back.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life in a ballet studio and on the stage. I’ve traveled the world with a professional ballet company, yet I’ve been fascinated in recent years with the benefits that dance and movement offer. Ballet is my go-to for total fitness. I challenge you to experience this for yourself. While you may not be a candidate for the New York City Ballet, you can still reap the benefits of tackling the incredible discipline of ballet. Please take a look at some basic exercises here, and note the many benefits of practicing them.
Ballet posture is the ideal posture. The goal is stacked-up alignment, which makes you look and feel your best. Picture your body all lined up with your shoulders resting on top of your straight spine, belly button lifting and pressing into your spine, shoulders over your hips, and hips over your knees which are over your middle toe. Think of pulling up from the top of your head while pushing into the floor with your feet.
When you first start ballet classes, you’ll locate and strengthen muscles you never knew you had. You’ll carry yourself taller and straighter, and you’ll find yourself dancing through life’s complexities. Poise will surround you as you exude confidence in your daily life. Most importantly, your energy level will soar.
Ballet Moves for Fitness: Here are a few considerably basic movements. Concentrate sincerely on each movement, as your mind-body connection is a great leader. It’s okay to hold onto a chair or countertop for balance if you need to. With your perfect ballet posture, put your heels together as you slightly turn out your legs from your hips. For exercises 1–4, keep your feet in this position, which is ballet first position. You’re ready to try these moves:
Demi plié (half bend)—Bend your knees as far as you can while keeping your heels on the floor. Be sure your knees go over your middle toes and that your body remains perfectly straight with no tilting or bending sideways, front, or back. This movement works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, ankles, and feet. Do 8 reps, rest 30 seconds, and do 8 more—SLOWLY, please!
Grand plié (large bend)—Go into your demi plié (#1 above) and then continue lowering your body as you let your heels come off the floor. Notice I said let them come off the floor; don’t make them come off the floor. Continue down until you’re in a sitting position over your ankles. Straighten back up, putting your heels on the floor as soon as you can, and then continue to straighten your knees. Plié is a bend of the knees: nothing else, not forward or back, just knees. Do four slowly, rest 30 seconds, repeat four more times. Watch your glutes, quads, and calves take on form and shape.
Relevé (rise)—Rise on to the balls of your feet and slowly back down to starting position. Do 16 times; rest for 3 seconds; repeat 16 more times. Releves give you sculpted calves and strong feet and ankles.
Cambré (stretch to the front and back)—With one arm holding on to a chair, raise your other one over your head. Stretch forward and down to the floor with straight knees. Straighten back up and then stretch to the back, being sure to bend from your waist. Nothing below your waist should move. This move does wonders for your abs and core. Do 4 times, rest 30 seconds, then do 4 more times.
Arabesque—A little more advanced because it involves standing on one leg, arabesque is one of the best things you can do for your derriere: tone it, shape it and lift it. Point your foot to the back in line with your shoulder and lift your leg as high as you can. Don’t be concerned about how high your leg goes (or doesn’t go). Be sure you don’t twist in your hips or shoulders. Do 8 slow repetitions of lift/lower with your right leg, 8 with your left leg, and repeat 8 times with each leg.
If you can practice all 5 of these at least 3 times a week for 3 weeks, you should start to see some nice results. Be sure to add some cardio and strength training to your exercise regime. You need them as well to look and feel your absolute best. You can do it; I’m cheering you on!
Donna Martelli, formerly a professional dancer with the Harkness Ballet of New York, served on the dance faculty at Butler University, Indianapolis, and is now also a Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Pilates Instructor in Indianapolis, IN. She conducts classes, seminars, and workshops in the US and Europe. She is the author of “When God Says Drop It” and “Why the Dance,” available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
This article was published in Radiant Life magazine.