Updated: May 3
Toned, strong, graceful.
Look at any ballet dancer and these are probably words you would use to describe their physique. It is perhaps no wonder then, that ballet based fitness classes are increasing in popularity.
These days there are many different types of ballet fitness or barre classes out there. I am a Pilates teacher, with a strong background in classical ballet. I incorporate ballet and Pilates techniques into my Ballet Fitness Fusion classes, staying true to the intent and purpose of each movement.
So why do people love it, and why is it such an effective form of exercise?
Ballet dancers are trained to make difficult movements look effortless, but make no mistake, ballet works your body hard!
One of the main reasons that ballet is such an effective form of exercise is that is requires full body integration. It doesn’t matter if you are doing a plie (bending of the knees), tendu (leg extension) or port de bras (arm movement), the whole body is working; maintaining posture, keeping turn out etc.
Another reason is its focus on correct form. Similar to Pilates, in ballet it is not simply about the movement itself but the technique with which you execute it that makes all the difference. In Pilates I often tell my clients “if it’s easy you’re probably not doing it right” and the same applies to ballet. Every movement requires focus on technique and form, thus from beginning to end of class your body is working hard!
Ballet fitness also offers an opportunity to learn a new skill and have fun, and it is well known that you are more likely to stick with an exercise class that you enjoy and makes you feel good.
How is a ballet fitness class structured?
This will depend on the type of class you attend. My classes start with a short warm up before heading to the barre. Following the barre work we may do some standing work in the centre and will always finish on the mat. I fuse ballet and Pilates techniques in my classes as they complement each other so well. In addition to the barre, we may sometimes use small equipment such as Pilates soft balls, resistance bands and light hand weights. The class is structured to incorporate strength, balance and flexibility.
I also teach specially designed classes for those over 65 years of age and wanting a gentler paced class. The focus is on exercises to help improve every day function, including stability, strength and balance. This class uses a combination of barre, centre and chair work.
Do I need any previous ballet experience to join a ballet fitness class?
Again this may depend on the type of class you attend, but in most cases no you don’t. In my classes I welcome all levels and my class members currently range from those with no previous ballet experience at all to some who have quite considerable dance experience. The beauty of ballet fitness is that it offers something for everyone, regardless of your experience or ability.
Because the focus is on the fitness element of ballet, the choreography is kept simple. This enables you to focus on the muscle action of the body rather than trying to remember complicated sequences of steps. Some ballet terminology is used, but it is always accompanied by a demonstration and you will pick it up in no time. If I have someone new in the class I always take time to explain each movement in detail, not only does it help the new person understand each new move but it is beneficial for the others in the class to remind themselves of the purpose of each movement.
Do I need any special clothing or equipment?
You will need to wear clothing that is comfortable to move in, and in which your instructor can see your body alignment. Leggings and a vest top are ideal, or a t.shirt if preferred. No tutu required!
You may wish to wear flat ballet shoes on your feet. If you don’t have flat ballet shoes then thin socks are generally better than bare feet as they allow your feet to glide along the floor properly in extension movements such as tendu and jete. Thick or fluffy socks are not recommended as they can be slippery.
Depending on the class and the studio you attend, you may need to provide your own mat. For my classes, 15mm Pilates mats are provided for all class members to use. Mats are sprayed and wiped with natural cleaning spray after every use so that they are clean and fresh for the next user. I also provide small equipment such as soft Pilates balls, resistance bands and light hand weights so you only need to worry about bringing yourself, and a bottle of water to keep you hydrated throughout the class.
About the author
Gina is the owner of Precision Poise, and is a qualified Pilates teacher. She has a strong dance background, having trained vocationally at the international renowned Elmhurst Ballet School and The Urdang Academy, London. She has experience in teaching classical ballet and other dance forms to all ages from preschool to adults and now works as a Pilates instructor specialising in women’s wellness, particularly pregnancy and motherhood.
Precision Poise runs Ballet Fitness Fusion classes on Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Ballet for Life classes for the over 65s are also offered on Mondays at 2.30pm (Fishbourne Centre, Fishbourne). To find out more about these classes please see the Ballet Fitness pages of the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs.