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In Their Steps

Published in the San Diego Union Tribune
March 4, 2008

Adult ballet offers a variety of fitness benefits.

Katherine Cordova approached a ballet barre for the first time when her younger daughter, an avid dancer, left home. “She made me take a class to give me something to concentrate on when she left,” Cordova says.

Three years later, the lithe, energetic Cordova goes to five ballet classes a week. “I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in,” she says.

Bone Head BalletCordova, who dances at Stage 7 in North Park, also enjoys the beauty of ballet as an art form. As Stage 7 director Kathryn Irey puts it, “There’s something intrinsically satisfying about exercise that has an artistic lens.”

Along with aesthetic rewards, adult ballet offers a range of fitness benefits, say Irey and other teachers who offer classes for adults.

Ballet training improves flexibility, tone, balance, coordination, and posture, says Michelle Noblejas-Bartolomei of Music and the Mirror Ballet Center West in Mission Hills. “One student went to her doctor, and she’d gained three-quarters of an inch in height by the improvement in her posture and the way she carried herself.”

Ballet ShoesAt the intermediate level, students get an aerobic workout, Steven Wistrich of City Ballet says. “They do a fair amount of jumping. When they leave class, they’ve worked up a good sweat, and they’re breathing pretty hard.”

“A lot of students tell me it keeps their minds sharp,” Wistrich adds. That goes along with recent research on the cognitive benefits of dance.


Absolute beginners: Adult ballet attracts many people who danced as children, but there’s plenty of room for neophytes. A number of studios offer pre-beginner classes, such as Irey’s “Bonehead Ballet.” Irey begins each Bonehead class by drawing students’ awareness to their wrists, for instance, or their upper backs. The idea is to “find alienated body parts” and to integrate the body as a whole.

Belly up to the barre: Don’t worry that you’ll be expected to leap across the floor like Baryshnikov. Most of a beginning class is spent at the barre. “That’s where the foundations for the center work are learned,” Noblejas-Bartolomei says. The barre helps you balance as you shift your weight to one leg, freeing the other leg to trace a pattern on the floor or in the air.

No tutus required: Ordinary workout clothes are fine, though you’ll want to wear something form-fitting, so the teacher can see what you’re doing. For footwear, Irey’s Bonehead class is done in socks the wilder, the better. Other classes request ballet slippers, available for $12 and up online; you may want to spend a little more at a dance store to assure the fit of your first pair.