Scottish Ballet’s fitness video raises the barre

YOU may never look like a ballet dancer but at least you can move like one. A set of exercise videos that promise to turn even the most unco-ordinated of fitness enthusiasts into elegant ballerinas has been released by Scottish Ballet.

The videos teach fitness routines used by the company’s own dancers when training for touring performances of hits such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Although they come with a lengthy health warning – in case the pliés, arabesques and battement dégagés become a little too taxing – they pledge to make even complete novices to the barre “feel like a ballet dancer”.

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Devised by Kate Menzies, an instructor who works with Scottish Ballet’s dancers on their fitness and posture, the videos include a range of classic moves and feature some of the company’s rising stars.

Menzies said: “The idea is to give people a taster of what it’s like on a day-to-day basis for the dancers and get an idea of what kind of exercise they’re doing.”

The two videos – Core de Ballet and Port de Bras – are available free on the company’s website, and have been downloaded more than 10,000 times. The first focuses on floor work and stretching, while the second, named after the ballet term for arm movements, includes a number of simple ballet sequences.

Menzies said those doing the exercises three to four times a week would see a huge ­improvement in their fitness.

She said: “If you were doing it that often you would feel much better posture wise, you would be standing taller and getting much more tone through your muscles.

“You’d start to use your back more when using your arms, and it’s very good for your ­abdominals too. It works the whole body – your legs and stomach feel worked too.”

She added: “You should end up feeling a little bit more like a ballet dancer, and a little more elegant and relaxed.”

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Scottish ballet dancer Brenda Lee Grech, who can be seen dancing in all three pieces in the company’s current show, Autumn Season, features in Port De Bras, the second of the exercise videos. She said: “The movements involved in Port de Bras reflect many of the exercises that we practice in daily class.

“It’s really great to be able to share part of our daily routine with the public and exciting to be involved in the new health and fitness initiatives from the company.”

However, personal trainer and fitness expert Sarah-Jane Walls, who runs the Residence fitness centre and spa in Glasgow, said those wishing to try out the videos should be ­careful.

She said: “There are issues with ballet positions, namely that they have postures that in general health and fitness we would avoid, such as the stance positioning of feet and possible stress in the knees and hips.”

She also warned that those attempting the moves would sadly not transform themselves into instant Darcey ­Bussells.

“The people in the video are professional and look so elegant and graceful. In reality, Joe Public will look nothing like this.”

Walls said however that there were clear benefits in trying out the moves. “Many principles are similar to that of pilates but with a dance-orientated theme.

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“Essentially this workout ­encourages you to gain body awareness in posture, balance and pose. It will condition and tone muscles and it looks beautiful.”

Dance-orientated exercise videos have become increasingly popular in recent years with workouts such as Strictly Come Dancersize, based on the ballroom dancing TV show Strictly Come Dancing, the Ministry of Sound Pump it Up dance workout, based on club dance moves, as well as Zumba, the hugely popular fitness craze based on Latin American dance moves. There are even exercise DVDs available featuring Bollywood dance routines, West African dance movements and “stomp” dancing.

Bussell, former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, has also recently released her own set of video on pilates, which is an exercise method for strengthening core muscles – key elements of fitness for professional dancers.

Scottish Ballet says it now has plans for a third video in the series, to be released next year, which it hopes will feature jumping, turning and even pirouettes. Although, conceded Menzies, “there are confines to how much ballet you can do in your living room”.

The punishing training schedules of ballet dancers are legendary. A recent study at the University of Hertfordshire found that the overall fitness of the dancers is greater than that of international ­swimmers.

The investigation looked at a range of ‘fitness’ testing including strength, endurance, balance, flexibility and psychological state amongst others. Of the ten most important measures of fitness employed, the ballet dancers had stronger scores in seven of them when taking into account body size.