By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer
The long lean muscles and graceful bodies of ballet dancers have long been admired and envied. Our love affair with ballerinas stepped up a notch when Natalie Portman danced across our screens in Black Swan. Since then ballet mania has spread across the globe, with Bar Method, Barre Body, Ballet Fusion and Ballet Bootcamp – if that’s not a contradiction in terms, popping up everywhere, from New York to London. Even the likes of Madonna, Katie Holmes, Charlize Theron and Ryan Gosling – yes really. Profess to using the plié movement to stay trim, taught and terrific.
Carrie Rozabek Dorr, founder of the Pure Barre class says the secret of ballet workouts is the ‘micro movements’. Ballet involves every inch of your muscles being actively engaged in every movement. For the uninitiated, First Position (standing tall with your heels together, toes turned out and arms softly curved in front of your thighs), is ballet’s rest position. During this ‘rest’ time, your deep tummy muscles pull your waist in like a corset, your shoulders are opened and your inner thighs engage as your butt muscles squeeze tightly… phew!
However, the nay sayers point out that feeling a burn in a specific muscle does not mean you are getting stronger, fitter or losing any weight. Ballet focuses more on muscle extension and is not the huff and puff or fat burning workout that the average person needs to build fitness or change their body shape.
Indeed, former New York City Ballet dancer Brynn Jinnett states that ballets dancers look like they do because they have spent years in training and followed very restrictive diets. The average person does not have the same history of training or the steely core stability of a professional dancer to cope with the positions of ballet.
You will not get fit, lose weight or look like a ballerina because you perform a few hours of plies and pirouettes – and you may in fact get injured. Ballet is a dangerous sport? Don’t laugh. Studies in the US have determined that what ballet dancers do is as hard as what your favourite footy players do. Even Natalie Portman had to swim between ballet sessions to rest her body and she was only making a movie, not living it fulltime.
Some proponents of the ballet inspired classes have recognised these issues and adjusted their class content for the masses. Ballet style classes may well ensure you get some much needed ‘fat burning interval training’ or combine ballet and more traditional movements. Also many classes do not actually claim to provide a cardio workout as they are based on a fusion of ballet, yoga and Pilates.
There is no doubt that ballet – or any dance training, improves body awareness and posture. This emphasis on standing and moving properly in class will inevitably spill over into day to day life and that’s a plus. Good posture is better for your body and keeps you looking younger.
Also, it is always a good idea to mix up your exercise routine so your body is continually stimulated and challenged in different ways. As a personal trainer I have borrowed a few moves from ballet as well as Pilates, yoga, boxing and many other forms of exercise over the years, to keep my women’s circuit classes fresh and exciting.
Let’s face it, why not try something new, have some fun and find your inner ballerina. Exercise needs to be for life so the more varied and enjoyable it is the more likely you are to do it regularly and long term. Just as long as you remember a few hours plieing at a barre or arabesqueing across a room does not promise you the body of Natalie Portman or the ability to perform Swan Lake.
By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer & Owner of The Health Hub www.healthhub.net.au
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