A pose you won't strike in the first couple of weeks but something to aspire to: image by Linda Rich
What?: Ballet. Yes, ballet. Tutus, tiptoes, bulging tights, dying swans and fairies, we know all the cliches. Underneath it all is a brilliant way to improve core strength, flexibility and muscle tone, work on all round fitness and train your brain - guys and gals - while dabbling in an expressive art and really dancing. Fly across a studio in a great big leap, however elephantine. Go spinning across the room until you feel properly dizzy. Make some stunning shapes with your body and be graceful. Do good toes, naughty toes. Ballet will put you through your paces. And you don't need to wear a leotard. Not at first, anyway.
The rundown: Traditional class starts holding onto the barre progressing from warm up kneebends, rises, leg stretches and body bends onto more exciting movements like grand battements (throwing your leg up in the air). After a stretch it's into the centre for ports de bras (arm exercises that feel dead nice) and a mixture of the things you learned at the barre, now without holding on. Then turns, little jumps and big jumps and something really dancey and all of it strung together in great choreographed sequences with the odd flourish here and there and the opportunity to express yourself throughout.
We found a Ballet Floor Barre class that allows you to rediscover (or discover for the first time) all the muscles you need for ballet. The exercises enable you to focus on working different parts of the body and building core strength without having to worry about standing up or balancing. The exercises apply to all different levels of experience and give you a surprisingly thorough workout which is great at preparing you for a regular ballet class. Neat.
Is it the right fit for you: If you love dancing you should give it a try, whatever your experience. Post-18 accept you're never going to be a ballerina or premier danseur, work hard with what you've got and enjoy it. You will feel the benefits within weeks and probably get addicted. Be careful with any pre-existing injuries though and be prepared to listen to your teacher. Ballet is highly technical and disciplined so those who find it hard taking orders will probably not get on with it.
Where and when? There are classes for all levels across London. Major names are London Contemporary Dance School, Urdang, English National Ballet School, Royal Academy of Dance, Pineapple and Danceworks who all run adult courses. Check the londondance.com directory for more. If you want something friendly and un-intimidating, we recommend Serena of Ballet For You - especially if you're someone returning to dance, of at least elementary level but with a significant gap in your class attendance - new courses start w/c 2/11/09. Tell her we sent you.
Ballet not for you? Check out previous Alternative Fitness posts.