- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - You point your toes and extend your pink slipper clad foot forward. Your mind is clear of anything outside the studio walls as you raise your arms and step into the next turn.

Dance offers a unique fitness experience, encompassing strength, balance, posture, focus and flexibility, explained Marina O’Rourke, teacher and owner of Dubuque’s Academy of Ballet.

“It’s your body in space,” she told the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/1QJKS2N ). “You take all the space you need and learn to use it to express your own human condition. That’s all you have in life - your body and space.”

In Dubuque, adults can reap these benefits of dance, as well as children and teenagers.

O’Rourke teaches a ballet exercise class on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Instructor Megan MacLeod teaches a beginner or refresher ballet class on Thursday evenings and an intermediate and advanced ballet class on Friday evenings.

The Academy of Ballet was started by O’Rourke’s mother, Tatiana “Tanya” Bechenova O’Rourke, in 1958.

O’Rourke can’t remember a time when adult classes were not offered.

“There has always been an interest,” she said.

Some adults lacked access to classes as children, while others danced in their youth and wish to return.

“The desire is always there,” O’Rourke said. “Once you’re a dancer, you can do yoga and zumba, but it’s not ballet. It doesn’t speak to you like ballet.”

The music also draws the dancer in and appeals to an individual’s interest in things classical or historical, MacLeod said.

“It’s beautiful music you’re moving through space to,” she said. “When you walk into class, you can completely leave behind the stresses of life.”

This escape from worry is achieved through single-minded focus, a requirement of the genre.

“You don’t even realize until you leave and you’re so relaxed,” MacLeod said.

A ballet dancer’s graceful lines are achieved through small details - the angle of the toes or direction of the hands.

This attention to detail provides a mental challenge to ballet dancers, in addition to a physical workout, O’Rourke said.

Regular physical exercise is necessary to keep muscles strong and prevent or control chronic illness such as diabetes, explained Deb Rohr, a family practitioner with Unity Point Clinic, in Cascade, Iowa.

But the mental workout included in alternative exercise activities, such as dance or martial arts, also helps fight memory diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, Rohr said.

“The choreography in martial arts and dance has a sequence and memorization to it,” she said. “Through practice, it will strengthen memory.”

There is greater variety in a dance class than a jogging regimen, she said.

And, there is no age limit on the benefits.

“You can do it your entire life. There is no limit to it,” Rohr said. “My parents are 80 years old, and they still dance on weekends.”

One of O’Rourke’s students is 75 years old and has been attending classes for more than two decades. She is respectful of her limitations, O’Rourke said.

“Everybody has issues,” she said. “You can be respectful of what you can and can’t do, but your limitations absolutely should not stop you from taking a class.”

A class offers a communal setting that often increases accountability and therefore follow through on the exercise, Rohr said.

In the Grand Opera House, where O’Rourke and MacLeod teach ballet, this setting also is often infused with humor and support.

“It is not a social hour. We are coming here to work,” O’Rourke said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t laughter to let the tension out.”

Adult classes are scheduled in five-, six- or eight-week sessions to accommodate busy schedules.

The dress code is dance attire or tight-fitting yoga clothing and hair must be pulled back from the face and neck. Loose or baggy clothing prevents the instructors from seeing the body’s lines to make corrections, O’Rourke explained.

O’Rourke and MacLeod encourage all Dubuquers to try a class on the six-century old art form.

“We could all be more graceful on this Earth,” O’Rourke said. “A lifetime of ballet will never bore you.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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