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Great Workouts for Women: Ballet

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For most women, ballet calls one of two images to mind. We might remember our own elementary school ballet classes, frilly, pink tutus and all. Or we might think of gorgeous, athletic dancers whose abilities are totally beyond our reach.

Despite its reputation, ballet is approachable for adults—both as an art form and as an exercise. There are many reasons the Experimental Wife ought to try ballet.

  • It adds grace. Ballet requires you to be absolutely aware of your body. When you make a habit of moving gracefully in class, your movements outside of class will become more elegant as well.
  • It builds feminine-looking muscle. Large, rock-hard muscles usually demand testosterone. Women look healthy and fit with firm arms, legs, and abs that honor their curvier, more feminine bodies. Ballet is an excellent way to firm muscles without adding bulk.
  • It improves posture. Ballet builds the muscles in your core and back that your body needs to support good posture. Besides, when you feel beautiful and maintain an awareness of the way you move, your posture will naturally improve.
  • It demands full concentration. Riding an exercise bike or going for a jog can be nice, but it is easy to let the day’s stressors continue playing in your head. A ballet class is a great way to clear your mind because it requires your full attention.
  • It adds cultural awareness. Ballet has been around since the fifteenth century. Some of the world’s greatest classical music comes from ballets. Taking a ballet class is a great way to learn to appreciate ballet performance and music.

Ready to try ballet for yourself? Every ballet class begins with barre work, a routine of simple stretches and exercises.

Before you attempt barre work, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. You don’t have to wear a leotard and tights to dance. Try a loose-fitting pair of pants and a t-shirt. Socks can substitute for ballet shoes in a pinch, but an inexpensive pair of ballet slippers is a worthwhile investment if you enjoy yourself.
  2. Find a place in your home with a smooth floor, such as wood or tile. A banister or a chair can serve as a barre.
  3. When you do barre work, keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Lift your chin slightly and avoid hunching your shoulders to elongate your neck. You’ll also want to keep your legs turned out. To turn out your leg, rotate your leg from the hip as far as you can without hurting yourself or straining. And, of course, point your toes by stretching from the top of your foot to the end of your big toe.
  4. Ballet ought to be danced to music. Most barre exercises are set to 3/4 or 4/4 time. I’ve provided musical counts to give you an idea of pacing.
  5. Most exercises at the barre are performed en croix, in the shape of a cross. First to the front, then to the side, then to the back, then to the side. Because one side will be facing the barre, you’ll do the exercises to the same side of the body twice, then turn around and perform the whole exercise again on the other side.
  6. Use the arm facing the barre to hold the barre for balance. Many teachers have new students begin barre workouts with their other hand on their outside hip. You won’t learn beautiful arm movements this way, but you’ll learn the basic positions and moves without getting too confused.
  7. A beginner’s barre class usually does all barre exercises from first position.In first position, line your feet up heel to heel. They should be in as close to a straight line as possible. Try to use your whole foot to bear your weight. Never force your feet further than they can comfortably go.

A Barre Routine

Plié means bent. A plié is a smooth bend at the knees. Teachers often set pliés to waltz music in 3/4 time.

  • Start in first position. Bend your knees as far as you can without picking up your heels. Keep your knees directly over the middle of your feet. At the barre, pliés are slow. Go down for three counts and up for three counts, without pausing at the bottom.
  • You’ve just executed a demi-plié, or half-bend. Repeat that twice.
  • Now bend your knees as far as you can without sticking out your backside. This time, you should pick up your heels. Again keep your knees directly over the middle of your feet. Go down for six counts and up for six counts.
  • You’ve just executed a grand-plié, or full-bend.
  • Now quickly and smoothly rise off the heel and ball of your feet to balance on your toes. Think of peeling your feel off the floor. You’ve just executed a relevé, or lift into demi-pointe. Pause, then lower your feet back down. Rising and lowering should take six counts.
  • You’ve now finished a whole series of plié exercises in first position. Advanced dancers perform pliés in all five foot positions.

Battement tendu is a kick that stays on the floor. Tendu means stretch. It is often performed in 4/4 time.

  • Start in first position. Battement tendu is performed en croix, first to the back, then to the side, then to the back, then to the side again.

  • Your working leg, the leg you’ll be using for this exercise, is already turned out from being in first position. Keep it as turned out as you can. Use your big toe to draw an imaginary line across the floor from the heel of the opposite floor to a point in front of you as far as your leg can reach. When your big toe can’t go any further, let most of your foot lift off the floor. Your pinkie toe should stay behind. This whole movement should take two counts.
  • Now bring your leg back. Make sure you think of the movement, not the destination. Slowly reconnect your big toe with the floor. Leave your leg turned out as you bring it back. This movement should also take two counts.
  • Perform the same exercise to your side. This time, keep your big toe in contact with the floor as you move out for two counts and back for two counts.
  • Next, perform the same exercise behind you. It’s okay if your leg doesn’t seem to go very far. Keep your big toe on the floor and try to keep your leg turned out as you go back for two and come forward for two.
  • Finally, perform the exercise to your side again. You’ll end back where you started in first position.
  • You’ve just executed a whole series of battement tendu exercises. Turn around and do the exercises again, this time with the other leg.

Rond de jambe à terre means circle of the leg on the floor.  It is also performed en croix and usually in 3/4 time.

  • Perform a tendu to the front. Instead of pulling it in, take it in a slow half-circle around your body.  Try to keep your leg turned out the way it is in first position. Stop when you’ve reached the same position as tendu to the back.
  • Pull your foot forward, passing through first position, back to tendu forward. You’ve just completed a rond de jambe.
  • Rond de jambe is often performed in a set at alternating speeds. Start with one slow rond de jambe over four counts of three. Pass through first and perform two rond de jombes over two counts of three each. Finally, perform four rond de jombes over one count of three each. End your last rond de jambe in first position.
  • Turn around and repeat the exercise in the other direction on the other leg.

You have now performed very basic barre workout. At this point in a ballet class, the teacher would have the class pause and stretch now that their muscles are warmed up and their concentration is engaged. Take a few moments to stretch and relax.

When it comes to ballet, I’m just an amateur. I strongly suggest you take a ballet class if you’re interested in ballet. Never do anything in a workout that hurts. And make sure you’re healthy enough to exercise.

I highly recommend The New York City Ballet Workout for anyone interested in developing better posture, grace, poise, and feminine muscle tone.

You can also search for a ballet studio online.


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