Ballet might not be as sweaty as some workouts, but it’s a great way to build strength and challenge your body awareness.
AS A KID, I had a few years when I tried to be a ballerina. I didn’t have the flexibility, nor the grace, but I do think ballet trained me out of a general clumsiness.
The modern fitness world likes to borrow ballet strength techniques, but I wanted to return to the real deal.
I found adult ballet classes at The Ballet Studio in the University District, a modest studio that feels properly old-school, with barres, mirrors and a live pianist to accompany class. Students sign up for full sessions to learn at a consistent rate.
The Ballet Studio
I dropped into Very Beginning Ballet, designed for adults with no ballet training. I went barefoot and hoped my muscles remembered my childhood years at the barre.
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We started out with basics, doing first and second position and working our natural turnout, with toes pointed out away from our heels. We worked on brushing our feet along the floor (tendue) and relevés. Our teacher, Kristin Lewis, emphasized using seat muscles rather than our quads or calves for relevés on the balls of our feet, and engaging our bellies.
We added more, including battement, or lifting a foot off the floor, toes pointed and still turned out. My hips were not particularly thrilled with all the turnouts, which required constant engagement of my glutes.
Kristin added some passés, and I lifted a foot up against my knee, with my bent leg turned out. When we layered in battement to extend a leg parallel to the floor, my glutes protested even more.
Kristin told us not to let our quads bully our inner-thigh and seat muscles; my quads argued, “I am strong; please use me.” Sorry, thigh muscles. This is not your class.
We also worked on demi-sautés, which are basically leaps in place, toes pointed, with a light landing into a plié. We practiced them at the barre first. These definitely got my heart rate up, and I kept forgetting to point my toes.
I was happy when we added some dynamic stretching, doing graceful side bends and forward folds to the floor. I felt like I was in “Center Stage,” my favorite teenage ballet movie of all time.
We moved to the center of the room and practiced walking across it in a waltz, then grabbed resistance bands to strengthen our shoulders and upper backs. During this period, the pianist played a dreamlike song that transported me. It was lovely; I wish all classes had live music.
For the final section of class, we worked on demi-sautés in the middle of the room. I liked leaping around, though it was hard to land lightly, and I still didn’t have that dang toe point.
Ballet as an adult was eye-opening. As a kid, I mimicked what my teacher showed me. Now, I have better body awareness, and I realized how hard it was to keep my pelvis level while moving my legs in various positions and pliés. I also felt the work in my glutes and inner thighs; my calves were sore the next day from all the relevés, which I think means I wasn’t using my seat muscles properly.
While it’s not as sweaty and as intense as hard-core interval classes, ballet will challenge your body awareness and build strength. Kristin told me some adults come in never having learned ballet and end up performing or getting strong enough to dance in pointe shoes.
I don’t have dreams of flying across a stage doing graceful leaps, but if you do, don’t give up. You can.