It seems everywhere I look lately, barre fitness classes are springing up all over town. They are pretty much an outcropping of yoga and Pilates studios, which makes sense as there is plenty of anatomical cross-over between moves done in yoga, Pilates and ballet. But I can’t help feeling a large bit of skepticism and maybe even resentment toward these classes.
If you want a “dancer’s body” as so many of these fitness classes promise, you need to do more than an hour a week of fitness moves very loosely based on ballet. If you want to look and move just like a dancer, you need to live just like a dancer. And that means hours of physical training every day and a meticulously planned diet based much more on fuel than flavor. Even professional dancers lose their dancer’s body if they slack on their routine. So my first issue is that, like many other fitness programs, there’s just no way the promise can be delivered.
This, my friends, is not a plie.
Next, there’s the issue of not actually teaching ballet. Look at this photo above. That’s what I call a Fitness Plie. Many magazines are guilty of putting “plies” in their workout spreads. They are not plies. They are modified squats. To the uninitiated, a plie and a squat may appear to be the same thing – knees bending, person moving up and down, etc. The gal in this photo looks like her knees are together. This would never happen in ballet. Ever.
Properly executed demi-plie (male dancer) and grand plie (female dancer). Notice the hips opening as wide as possible.
In ballet, the knees open out. In fact, getting legs that turn out for wide straddles and splits start with warming and opening the hips in plie. Fitness gal above is probably feeling the burn in her quads and calves, the same as any other kind of squat. You may feel it there in plies as well, but plies are actually a stretch. That’s right, I said stretch. You are stretching everything around the knees as well as the Achilles tendons. The strengthening of your quads and calves is just the bonus; it’s not the purpose of the exercise. Notice the ballet dancers in the photo. In plies, you go as low as you can keeping heels on the ground. In the deeper grand plie, you lift the heels as little as possible. It makes for a pretty intense stretch if you’ve never tried it.
Fitness instructors rubbed me the wrong way when they started making fitness versions of yoga a few years back. Yes, their classes are accessible to the average gym-goer, but they lose a lot of the heart of yoga. They are simply stretching and toning classes called “yoga.” Why not just own that fact and call it a stretching & toning class? Cashing in on a yoga fad – pretending to be something it’s really not. I fear that is the case now with ballet fitness. You can get certified to teach some of these ballet fitness classes without ever having taken an actual ballet class. That seems ridiculous to me, and disrespectful to practitioners of the art.
If you take a ballet fitness class or follow along with the numerous videos available, I have no doubt you’ll get a good workout complete with sweat and sore muscles the next day. But please do not be fooled into thinking you’ve learned anything that would be transferable to an actual ballet studio or that you will look like Polina Semionova by going to a ballet fitness class a couple even a couple times a week no matter how intense it is.
This is Polina Semionova – arguably the greatest ballerina of the 21st century. And she has great calves.