I’m not a big fan of the gym. Hopping around on cardio machines bores me to death. Aerobics and bootcamp classes blaring bad dance music with instructors shouting at me for “motivation” tend to have the opposite effect. I’m a busty gal, so I have an irrational fear of running. (I know, I know, they make amazing sports bras nowadays.)
That said, I do enjoy movement and being active. I’ll walk anywhere and everywhere. I like taking bike rides with my husband. And I love to dance.
When I was a child, I starting taking ballet lessons at age two and kept at it ’til I graduated high school at eighteen. There was no way I was ever going to become a professional dancer, but I enjoyed it, had amazing posture, and was ridiculously strong and flexible. It wasn’t all easy peasy, however. I would regularly get tension headaches due to the concentration required in learning new steps and perfecting my form. And thanks to my beautiful pink satin pointe shoes, my feet were hideously calloused. (And I’d be lying if I said that being a curvy teenaged girl wasn’t frustrating to me, when I compared my body to the slim, lithe girls in class. I was a perfectly healthy 135 pounds, but I felt gigantic. It being the 1990s and age of “heroin chic” did not help.)
Fast-forward 15 years. Here I was in my mid-thirties, weighing significantly more than I did at age seventeen, and my flexibility and strength had begun to wane. One morning, I was reading WWD, and came across a feature about Mary Helen Bowers and her Ballet Beautiful book and exercise program. Mary Helen Bowers had been professional ballerina with the New York City Ballet for ten years, and began developing her low-impact, ballet-based exercises while recovering from a dance-related injury. Her program’s focus on strength, grace, and flexibility instantly appealed to me, as did her disdain for fad diets and quick fixes. (Sorry—but I just cannot accept that lemonade with some cayenne pepper in it has “all the nutrients you need,” as a delirious, fasting colleague once told me.)
So, I downloaded the book to my iPhone and read it through, twice. Her advice all seemed reasonable, sound, healthy and based in reality. Luckily, most of her dietary recommendations matched up with the way I prefer to eat (whole, natural foods, and small, frequent meals). And I loved her positive, flexible, non-judgmental approach. It was all very encouraging, and despite being someone who wasn’t super slim and in fantastic shape, I wasn’t intimidated by it.
I ordered her DVDs, and tried out her workouts at home. The only equipment required was a yoga mat, so I was all set to start getting “Ballet Beautiful.” Well, the workouts were low-impact, but very challenging. As a former amateur dancer, I liked that the vocabulary was familiar to me. I started feeling muscles that I hadn’t thought about in over a decade! But the amazing thing was, after a couple weeks, I started seeing muscles developing that I hadn’t seen in years! (Hello, triceps!)
By that point, I was addicted and wanted more. Since I’m lucky enough to live in NYC, I decided to take the plunge and start taking group classes at her Soho studio. Well, if I thought the videos were challenging, the classes were even more so! But the trainers leading the classes are all super positive and encouraging. The classes are hard, but also feel self-indulgent and very stress-relieving at the same time.
I’m amazed at the amount of progress I’ve made over the last two months. I’m significantly stronger, my legs are looking pretty amazing (my calf-muscle-ridge is back!), and my balance and flexibility have both improved a LOT. In addition, in just 2 months of doing Ballet Beautiful workouts two to four days a week, I’ve lost 1″ in my bust, 1″ in my arms, 2″ in my waist, 2 1/2″ in my hips, and 1″ in my thighs! But the most important thing is how great I feel.
I honestly look forward to working out, and if I can’t make it to the studio, Mary Helen has made it so easy to not miss a single workout. She offers “Ballet Beautiful Live” classes via webcam, so you can take a group class (or schedule a private training session) from anywhere in the world. In addition to the DVDs, she also offers streaming workout videos for purchase on her website. And of course, there are also the workouts planned out in her book.
Thank you, Ballet Beautiful for making regular workouts an enjoyable part of my routine. I can’t wait to see how much progress I make after a year!