- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

For those who think hopping, shuffling, shouting and jumping isn’t fulfilling, there is the demi-plie-releve in first position.

The demi-plie-releve, as described by the New York City Ballet, has dancers rock back, lift the toes, squeeze the buttocks and tighten the inner thighs.

Translation: They work their butts, thighs and calves.

Ballet is making its move on aerobic dance.

“This is a way to bring ballet into the gym,” said Kate Solmssen, manager of the New York City Ballet Workout.

The company, one of the top dance troupes in the nation, began offering ballet-based workouts in 1997 with a book, as well as classes in Manhattan. A videotape followed in 2001. A new tape and digital video disc are being released this month, and Miss Solmssen is training instructors in cities across the nation as well as leading workouts in New York.

The routines are based on the choreography of elite ballet, but more simplified. “There is a discrepancy between someone who has been trained for 20 years and someone who hasn’t,” Miss Solmssen noted.

Much of the DVD focuses on conditioning as opposed to group dance.

The workouts bend to limitations of equipment.

For example, participants are not expected to have a bar, the rail that is a mainstay for ballet’s stretches and practice positions. Bar work is modified and can be done on the floor, Miss Solmssen said.

Similarly, there are no lifts. “We don’t do partnering,” Miss Solmssen said. Nor are there great leaps. This is a fitness class, and exercises are done with an eye toward safety more than spectacle.

Just the same, the workouts have their dance roots showing. “We have a nice little repertoire of about 25 movement combinations,” based on ballets such as New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine’s “Tarantella,” she said.

“There’s a certain style to the arms and the upper body, and a grace and a poise that people see when they see a dancer on the street,” she said, and that’s what many are after — as well as a dancer’s flexible, elongated muscles and flat abs.

Working out to the civilized strings of Bach and Mozart can be more pleasurable than exercising to the plebeian pounding of rock. “It’s not a step class, it is an art form,” Miss Solmssen said.

The ballet workout is a mind-body experience, and mood counts for a lot, she said.

The home-use versions work better for those who have had training in dance. On the DVD, plies and third positions flit past. So can the in-and-out dance footwork that substitutes for the hop-and-bop of step class.

Even in preparatory exercises, dancer versions of crunches have the hips moving to the side while the belly and back are parallel to the floor — something a dancer would have been taught to do, but something a non-dancer may not notice.

The company’s dancers demonstrate the movements, and do them beautifully.

However, for ordinary, less-than-limber mortals, the dancers sometimes do them incredibly. For instance, the bend-and-reach culminates with the dancers’ heads reaching their knees.

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