Image courtesy of Oude School via Flikr
Black Swan has reignited an interest in ballet themed workouts, and these days it’s not that hard to find a place to learn the basic moves. Many gyms and YMCAs are adding ballet workouts to their schedules, and if you’re lucky enough to live close to a professional company, most of them offer classes to the general public.
But if you would prefer to get your ballet fix at home, there are some DVDs that will allow you to learn at your own pace. The New York City Ballet has a two DVD series that was popular long before Black Swan hit the theaters.
I’ve done both of the DVDs, and to be totally honest, I think that they’re horrible. The first NYCB DVD has some kind of awkward mood lighting (that’s the best thing I can think of to call it), that for some bizarre reason leaves the dancers’ feet in the dark. Now, I don’t know about you, but any time I’m looking at professional dancers, the first thing that I look at are their feet and I have no idea why a self respecting cameraman would want to hide them in the shadows. But practically speaking, it means that if you’re trying to learn the moves, you have no idea what they look like since they’re shrouded in darkness. Oh, and did I mention that most of the male dancers are wearing black shoes? Boneheaded all around.
On the second DVD, they got the lighting problem fixed, but the cueing is so bad that in the middle of doing a pas de cheval, you hear the announcer telling you do de a pas de cheval. Good luck with that.
That’s what makes the DVD that I do recommend, Ballet Conditioning by Element, such a great workout. For starters, the workout is performed in the middle of a lush, sunny coastal yard with plenty of light on the instructor Elise Gulan. Even better, the camera focuses on her feet and her full body at appropriate times, which means you can not only get an idea of how the moves look, but how the entire carriage of the body should look when you do the move.
(For ballet newcomers, one of the most important things to remember in ballet is to get the proper carriage of the body. It gives dancers the lean, graceful appearance that we all envy them for.)
The cueing on the DVD is also just right. If you still don’t have a clue what a pas de cheval is, you don’t have to worry. You’ll be doing actual ballet moves without having to wonder what the move is called in French. On the other hand, if you learn the moves with the DVD and later attend a traditional ballet class, you will be surprised to learn that you do know how to do a developee.
I think that the strength of the DVD is that it mirrors a traditional ballet class, without the jargon that can be intimidating. Ballet developed out of the tradition of royal court spectacles, so it has a well deserved reputation for being elitist and a little out of touch for the common person. And I think the program proves that it’s easy to make ballet accessible to anyone by getting rid of the jargon and pulling ballet off of its pedestal.
For Pilates enthusiasts, there’s a nice quick Pilates flavored segment to the DVD. Pilates grew out of ballet as a way to rehab injured dancers, so the connection between the two disciplines is stronger than you might think.
Overall, this is a great solid ballet workout, perfect for the total ballet beginner. It’s also a thorough workout, so be prepared to have sore muscles the next day. This isn’t Ballet for Wimps.