- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

Audiences typically admire more than just the artistry in a ballet production. They see the lithe dancers and their exquisitely balanced physiques and marvel at their form.

It doesn’t take admission into a ballet school for non-dancers to see similar results. Students with the Washington School of Ballet’s beginner programs hope they, too, can reap the benefits of the classical dance form.

They aren’t the only ones turning to ballet to stay in shape.

Elements of ballet are seeping into fitness classes as health experts continue beating the drum about the benefits of not just stretching movements but keeping one’s core strong and healthy.

Washington School of Ballet director Rebecca Wright says her school’s classes feature teenagers and senior citizens alike staying fit through ballet.

“People in their 60s and 70s devote themselves every single night to taking these adult classes,” says Ms. Wright, who adds the lessons improve students’ circulation, stamina and coordination.

“We do everything equally on both sides so the body is completely balanced,” she says.

The sessions often attract people who either couldn’t become professional ballerinas in their youth, or those who simply adore the art form and want to stay enlightened about it, Ms. Wright says.

From an aesthetic vantage point, ballet offers something traditional fitness classes lack. Students often move to classical music, not the latest Top 40 ditties or hip-hop grooves.

The classes offer benefits beyond the music and the dance form’s unassailable grace. The movements can be anaerobic, featuring high-intensity moves for short durations, Ms. Wright says.

“We move for short periods of time vigorously, then we stop,” she says.

Ruth Tallmer, a former ballerina and dance instructor, has taught ballet to football players and even a bodybuilder through the years. Now, Mrs. Tallmer is teaching the ballet-inspired dance conditioning courses at the Sports Club/LA in Northwest.

“I don’t think there’s as complete an exercise as ballet,” says Mrs. Tallmer, who predicts ballet fitness moves will hit the mainstream in a similar way Pilates did a few years back.

“It’s the next wave … it’s a natural progression,” she says.

While Pilates often is performed on a mat or on a machine called the Pilates reformer, ballet moves involve standing, weight-bearing positions that improve overall strength.

The leaping movements alone offer additional benefits.

“Nothing works your legs in the same way,” she says.

The dance conditioning course incorporates ballet-inspired motions like plies — where the dancer bends at the knees — even though it may not appear like ballet to the untrained eye.

“I extricated the movements that are just presentation,” she says. “They don’t know they’re doing ballet, but they are.”

Mrs. Tallmer learned firsthand how much ballet tones the body when she stopped dancing professionally years ago.

“There were certain areas of my body, the back below the brassiere line, that looked flabby. I hadn’t gained weight. It was dropped muscle,” she recalls.

Still, ballet-inspired exercises aren’t commonplace here yet, partly due to cultural barriers.

“It’s something that men think they don’t want to do,” she says. “It carries a stigma that it’s a feminine thing to do.”

That’s a shame, she says, since ballet moves can make the average football player quicker on the field and less likely to injure himself.

Professional dancer and fitness trainer Jennifer Galardi, who can be seen on FitTV’s “All-Star Workouts” touting the benefits of ballet at 8 p.m. Jan. 28, says everyone aspires to having a dancer’s physique.

“It’s long, it’s lean, it’s toned,” Miss Galardi says.

The veteran dancer says ballet moves are inherent in any dance form, it’s just that many people aren’t familiar enough with it to make the connection.

“To me, it’s second nature,” she says.

Miss Galardi breaks through the confusion in class by explaining the plies and other ballet movements as they are performed.

“The more you do it, the more the students are familiar with the terminology,” she says.

Her classes promise students will become stronger and more flexible, but she, too, understands many men aren’t sold on the process.

“Very rarely do I see a guy in my class. It’s the same thing with yoga,” she says, even though athletes often use ballet to improve their balance and strength.

“It gives them a grace on the field and agility,” she says, adding football players who study ballet “can’t be pushed off balance as easily as others.”

Miss Galardi says many high-end health clubs are incorporating ballet into their class curriculum these days, with names like ballet sculpt or ballet strength.

Holly Kerr, a certified New York City Ballet workout and teacher trainer, leads students in her New York Sports Club classes through a number of ballet moves. The sessions attract a range of students.

“We sometimes get former professional dancers. They prefer that kind of workout,” Ms. Kerr says. “We also get complete beginners. They’re all mixed together.”

Ms. Kerr’s classes often incorporate mini ballets, or movement combinations, after the warm-up sessions.

The instruction often focuses on the body’s core muscle groups via mat work and strengthening moves that target the thighs, abdominals and back.

The advent of ballet and fitness merging gives people yet another reason to keep in shape.

“Some people go to the gym and want to lift weights and run. Some people, if they take a dance class want hip-hop or belly dancing. This is more refined,” she says.

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