Fitness / 15.02.2015

How do I start… ballet?

By Isabelle Dann
From traditional classes to buzzy spin-off sessions, ballet is back with a vengeance


Not just for little girls, but big ones too, ballet is having a moment. This is the discipline that has honed the strong, slim physique of former prima ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell.

Now the rest of us are wising up to its fitness and toning benefits as well. ‘Ballet is getting more popular as people look for alternatives to their normal gym classes,’ says Carol Been, who manages adult beginner ballet classes at Central School of Ballet in London. Here’s how you can enjoy its benefits, and obtain a beautiful body.

Who can do it?

‘Age is no barrier,’ says Been. In fact, ballet’s a great workout for would-be twinkle toes who are more mature. ‘Ballet is really good for improving bone density due to the fact that it’s weight-bearing,’ Been adds. ‘There’s a lot of strength work involved; many exercises involve placing weight on one leg at a time, and jumps are also part of the class. Balance and co-ordination also develop as participants of all ages progress through different stages and learn new movement combinations.’

Any other fitness gains?

It comes as no surprise to learn that ballet is ideal for achieving a toned physique. ‘There’s a lot of stretching involved,’ says Been. ‘Some forms of exercise, such as running, shorten muscles, but ballet helps maintain muscle length.’ So it could be the perfect complement to your treadmill workout.

Ballet will also help you shed pounds. ‘It increases your metabolism, plus it’s great for posture and core strength,’ says Been. The benefits are so effective that spin-off classes from the US, such as Barrecore (London and Manchester) and BarreConcept (available nationwide) which incorporate body-boosting ballet moves, are growing in popularity in the UK.

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Where do I start?

Traditional classes focus on classic ballet positions. ‘All beginners learn the correct placing of the feet and arms,’ says Been. ‘There are five basic foot and arm positions, from first to fifth. The barre is used to aid foot placement and support the body.’

As you progress, you can begin attempting the oh-so-pretty pirouettes. Been explains: ‘You learn pirouettes gradually by turning a quarter to half turn, and then performing full turns, learning to “spot” – focusing the eyes on one spot while the body turns, to prevent dizziness.’ Partner dancing and en pointe (going up on your toes) are reserved for advanced classes. ‘It takes a lot of training before the dancer is strong enough to go en pointe,’ adds Been.

Find out about local classes online, and using Google or Twitter hashtags like #barre. Class fees vary across regions, but typically cost around £10 per class. Or stream a class via the internet into your living room – Ballet Beautiful is run by Mary Helen Bowers, the woman who trained Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan. Sold!

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What kit do I need?

If you’re starting out, you’ll need a basic pair of ballet shoes. ‘Shoes suitable for a beginner’s level cost from about £8,’ says Been. ‘Buy them at specialist ballet shops or online.’ As for the rest of your kit, almost anything goes. ‘You can wear jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, gym-type stuff, or the full ballet kit: tights, leotards and tutus… if you want.’

What’s perhaps most surprising about adult ballet classes is how friendly they can be. ‘It’s an incredibly sociable activity to take part in – the classes become a community and you make new friends,’ says Been. A perfect excuse to stretch out of your comfort zone.

How do I start… ballet?
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How do I start… ballet?
From Black Swan to trendy ballet-inspired workout Barrecore, everyone is going back to ballet. Here's everything you need to know to join them.
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