Friday, August 1, 2014
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Ballet-inspired fitness classes tap the inner ballerina

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ballet-inspired group fitness classes have leapt beyond the traditional wall-mounted barre to include tools like bungee cords and swishy balls for a full-body workout, according to fitness experts.

The classes, often paired with Pilates, aim to channel the inner ballerina, even in non-dancers.

BungeeBallet, created by former New York City Ballet dancer Rachel Piskin, is a group class at ChaiseFitness studio in New York City that puts a fitness spin on ballet moves.

Instead of the traditional ballet barre, the 45-minute class relies on an overhead bungee system that Piskin said sculpts the arms and challenges the core of her mostly female clientele.

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  • "By holding on to the bungees, you can hold second position or first position," she said. "Coming from my background, it was important for me to really stay true to traditional ballet moves."

    In both of these basic positions of ballet, the feet are aligned heel to heel, touching in first position, then spaced approximately 12 inches apart in second.

    Piskin said the class sculpts the upper body, challenges the core and works the upper thighs. A series of bungee-assisted petit allegros, or small ballet jumps, keeps the heart rate up.

    "The class moves fluidly between one exercise and another and the bungees assist you to jump higher," she said.

    California-based Tracey Mallett is the creator of Booty Barre, a fusion class that combines Pilates, dance and yoga techniques using the traditional ballet barre.

    Along with cardio, strength, conditioning and flexibility components, the class, which is now available in over 20 countries, involves Pilates-inspired arm work with dumbbells and resistance bands.

    Mallett, a former dancer and certified Pilates instructor, said teaching an arabesque to a civilian is not the same as teaching it to a dancer; even the barre serves a different purpose.

    "(In class) the barre serves as something to hold on to for balance and . . . to work on the muscles around the shoulder girdle," said Mallett. "In dance, we use the barre to practice and strengthen muscles for performance."

    About 39 percent of gyms offer dance fitness classes, according to a 2014 report by IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), the industry's trade association.

    The ballet-inspired classes at Equinox, the upscale chain of U.S. fitness centers, come with and without the traditional wall-mounted barre.

    Depending on the class, light weights, body bars and squishy balls are utilized, often in small, isometric movements, according to Layla Guest, group fitness manager in downtown Los Angeles.

    "To work the upper body, we'll do functional arm movements such as bicep curls and tricep kickbacks, but in a small range of motion with two or three pound weights," she said. "Instead of just a muscular workout, we're looking at how the muscles move."

    Lower body work also delves into ballet technique.

    "With one hand on the barre and the other lengthening out to the side, you get that beautiful shape ballerinas have, (and) those ballet postures, plies, little leg lifts and big kicks," she said. "You really get that coordination."

    A final segment of Pilates-based core work is designed to work supporting muscles.

    Guest said Pilates cultivates those dancer-defining long lean muscles, which lie under the larger muscles prized by bodybuilders.

    "The joke is that if you measure yourself before and after ballet or Pilates, you'll grow taller," she said. "Actually, you haven't grown. You just stand taller."

    Dorene Internicola Reuters
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