Gone are the days when ballet was associated only with thin, sway-backed, neurotic dancers. Ballet is the class du jour to achieve sculpted thighs, strong abs and perfect posture. And even a touch of Zen.
''For me, ballet is a moving meditation,'' says Kate Barber, a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance and creative director of Big Steps Little Feet. Not only does ballet improve your posture and core strength, in your abs and spine, it also makes you feel better and more energised.
''We don't breathe enough in our daily lives, so the first thing you do in a ballet class, even before you do a movement, is take a deep breath,'' Barber says. ''This activates your body at a cellular level, as you're breathing very deeply, down to your core, rather than the usual shallow breaths we usually take.''
A study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that teenagers who were struggling with issues such as neck and back pain, stress, anxiety and depression reported a boost in mood after attending dance classes.
What happens to your body during a class
If you've been to the ballet, or even seen a dancer walk, you'll undoubtedly have admired their toned, taut body. ''When you lift your body onto the ball of your foot, even if it's unlikely you'll be able to balance en pointe, you engage the fine-motor, intrinsic muscles to force the body upwards,'' Barber says.
''The core strength of your abdominal, spine and intrinsic muscles of the legs and feet begin to align themselves on top of each other. Your body stacks like a long line of bricks creating length and elongation of the spine over the base of the foot.'' Barber says that by imagining your body is anchored to the ground, your feet are the roots of the tree, your torso is the trunk, your head is reaching towards the sky and your arms are the branches, the movement is a ''two-way action between the mind and body, which creates the space to use those intrinsic muscles to remain stable and supported''.
It's not just about muscles
It seems that dance could help with various illnesses. Research published by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition found that a weekly dance program could improve physical performance and increase energy levels among adults.
A study by the English National Ballet and University of Roehampton found that dance benefited people with Parkinson's disease by relieving debilitating symptoms, aiding short-term mobility and significantly improving stability, as well as contributing to social inclusion and artistic expression.
Get fit fast
''Ballet is a rare sort of workout, in that you can do less exercise but achieve better results than other types,'' says Emma Seibold, owner and founder of Barre Body. Seibold, who incorporates ballet, yoga and Pilates into her lessons, encourages her students to alternate between stretching, improving flexibility, strengthening and fat-burning cardiovascular moves.
''You exercise the muscle by strengthening it, which tones it, then stretch the muscle, which lengthens it,'' she says. ''This anaerobic exercise boosts the metabolism, so that you continue burning fat hours after the class ends.''
Like any exercise, enjoyment is more than half the benefit.
''Ballet isn't just about vanity of your body, it's also fun,'' Barber says. ''Once you find an exercise that's fun, that becomes the purpose to do it, rather than to tone up or lose weight.''
Poor health, fatigue and depression will deteriorate your muscle tone. A class will increase your muscle tone, which is a pathway back to a more alive, happier and healthier existence. ''Once you begin moving, you're performing and you feel full of confidence and self-esteem.''
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