Dance is where it all began. The first group exercise experiences grew from dance movements and quickly evolved into a wide variety of classes with music and moves as the driving force. Over the years, dance exercise has ebbed and flowed to meet the needs of a diverse audience. One of the latest iterations are ballet-inspired workouts.
Possibly due, in part, to the success of the movie Black Swan (don't quote me on that!), numerous ballet-based videos were released and ballet-inspired group classes began cropping up around the country as interest in the art soared. For the most part, ballet-based classes are less choreographed and place a greater emphasis on sculpting than more traditional ballet workouts, and are an ideal complement to other dance-based fitness workouts, as well as non-based dance formats. The benefits of ballet-based workouts include enhanced flexibility, improved muscular strength and endurance, increased core stability and, in some cases, improved cardiovascular endurance. Of course, one of the most unique aspects of these workouts is the externally rotated position and the foot-work that is common to ballet. If programmed correctly and executed with mindfulness, you can truly redefine your body from the ground up!
The types of classes offered may utilize barres, mats or small weights, but you can certainly build a ballet body in the comfort of your home without any special equipment (not even your shoes!). The following moves (borrowed from the Balletone workout program) will enable you to sculpt a dancer's body in no time. Take your shoes off, clear out some space, and perform 10 repetitions of each move in succession and then repeat the sequence of exercises one to two more times from start to finish.
Open & Close
Begin with your feet together and parallel; bend your knees (keeping weight in your heels) and, as you extend the knees, open the feet into 1st position. Try to initiate the rotation from the top of your leg rather than at your knee or ankle. Close the feet to parallel and repeat. This exercise helps warm up the lower legs and the hips.
Bend & Straighten
On the last repetition of Open & Close, leave the feet open in 1st position and perform knee bends (or plies). Again, keeping weight in the heels, bend the knees to lower down and then straighten the knees to come back to the starting position. It is not important how low you go at first (range of motion will come with practice), but concentrate on squeezing the inner thighs and seat as you lift and maintain heels on the floor.
Rise & Lower
Rise up on to the balls of the feet and lower back down. Try to keep weight evenly distributed across the entire foot and steady the ankles as you lift and lower. Concentrate on lifting with control and at an even pace.
Alternate pointing the toe out to the side and closing back into 1st position. As you point the foot out to the side, attempt to keep your external rotation (knee pointed up to the ceiling and rolling toward the back wall, while leading the movement with your heel) and your legs straight. Your foot should push along the floor and arrive in the point as if you were meeting a bit of resistance and, on the return, pretend there are magnets at the top of your thighs initiating the close.
Point & Big Bend
Building on the Points exercise, point to the side and then lower down into a bigger knee bend with legs greater than hip-distance apart. As you stand up, point the opposite foot out of the side and then kiss the heels together to finish in 1st position.
Find the Knee
Alternate bringing the toe to the inside of the knee on the standing leg and returning to 1st position. Concentrate on moving with control and keeping the knee opening to the wall behind you as you lift and lower. The hips should remain level and square throughout the movement.
Brush & Big Brushes
The Brush and Big Brush exercise derives from the Points exercise. Alternate brushing the foot out to the side and lifting the leg off the floor by a few inches. If the hips are remaining level and square, and the knees are staying straight, try progressing to a big brush by simply lifting the leg a bit higher. Consider this move a lift and NOT a kick. You should be able to stop the movement at any time during the brush if it is executed correctly.
Fall Front & Balance
Point the foot toward the front of the room (still externally rotated from the hip) and "all" into a long lunge with the front knee bent. Be mindful of the landing and do your best to slow yourself down with the strength of your core. The greater challenge is to push back up! Push off the front leg to shift your body weight over the back leg and finish in a balance. The front leg will be off the floor, extended in front of you. Perform all of the repetitions on the right leg and move to the leg swings before repeating the Falls on the left leg.
Swing the leg back and front, passing through 1st position each time. The leg can take on a box shape as you swing, with a slight bend in the knee forming half of a diamond shape. On the last repetition, close 1st position and repeat the Fall Front & Balance beginning on the left leg.
Alternating right and left leg, step back for a traditional lunge, but keep the legs remain externally rotated throughout the entire range of motion. Be sure to weight the front leg a bit more and add a bend at the waist. As you lower down into the lunge, pretend like there are roses being thrown at your feet that you need to gather. Stand up and close in 1st position.
If you minimize the downtime between the exercises, not only will you find your strength and balance challenged, but your heart can find a workout as well! There are many ballet-based formats to choose from in gyms or on workout DVDs, and the best advice I can give is to not take yourself too seriously when attempting these types of programs. Dancing is all about releasing judgment, moving your body and feeling graceful, inside and out. It’s a well-needed respite in the midst of our busy days, so I encourage you to take it for what it's worth and enjoy every second!