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Barre Hopping: How Ballet Can Help Autoimmune Disease & Make You Gorgeous

By Kaitlyn Bader —

Nobody seems to live quite as long and healthfully as a dancer.  Coined by Einstein as “athletes of God”, dancers’ quick, controlled movements are the secret formula to their enviably long, strong muscles.  While certain (Madonna) workout videos require a professional dance degree, barre basics are not nearly as scary and will score you a leaner frame, minimal coordination required. You’re probably thinking that’s great but not realistic–I  have arthritis, or  I’m TOO out of shape, or I can’t–I’m uncoordinated.  Well, fret not.

The barre method, created by German dancer Lotte Berk in the 1940’s, began as a rehabilitative therapy after Berk suffered a back injury4.  The method was created by combining components of ballet bar exercises (the conditioning warmups ballet dancers perform before practicing sequences across the floor) and Berk’s rehab treatment4.  In 1971, the first U.S. Berk method studio was opened by one of her proteges, and locations have been exploding across the country ever since.  While the barre method appears to be the most gentle for those with autoimmune disease, some sources would recommend any form of dance when performed at the individual’s ability level.

If the barre workout sounds right for you, here are some options:

1.  Find a center giving classes.  Each barre approach is slightly different, so call the center and ask for details.  For example, Mary Ellen Bowers who trained Natalie Portman for her role as a professional ballerina in Black Swan teaches a class in which the vibe is more layed back than you’d expect.  The NY Times describes it as “Unlike your average ballet class, these aren’t quiet sessions filled with steely competitors. The atmosphere feels more like girlfriends gathering for long-overdue drinks”².  One group ballet class at Bower’s studio Ballet Beautiful in Soho costs $30-40².

2.  Workout videos, like Barre Method Super Sculpting Workout, offer a more private and affordable option for those who want to try it alone first.  However, the healthful benefits of taking a class like social interaction and encouragement could make it worthwhile.  (Unless you invite your friends over for mocktails and ballet!)

3.  Want a free trial?  Follow this simple 15 minute sequence by XHIT daily.  It’s attached to this article!

4.  You can sample several ballet workout dvd’s from The Barre Method Body to The NYC Ballet Workout on Netflix for $7.99 a month without having to purchase them.

5. Short on time?  Go mobile with the new Barre 3 Apps 10 minute workouts and never miss a chance to get in some daily exercise.

Still not convinced to put on your dancing shoes?  Here’s what ballet can teach us about everyday health:

Keep exercise “light”.  Supplement your workouts with swimming, Pilates and yoga.  Stay away from running, weight lifting, and extreme workouts like P90X which stresses joints and builds a different kind of muscle than the dancing does.  Even Natalie Portman kept workouts light when training for Black Swan, supplementing her dancing with swimming, resistance, and endurance training to look  “strong and fit, but not bulky¹”.  There are also several modified versions of ballet available to those with a limited range of motion, like chair ballet.

Adopt the discipline & get a bang for your buck! Perhaps the greatest gift of ballet practice is that it’s a discipline, strengthening you not just physically, but mentally as well.  According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a 12 week dance course can function as a drug-free depression treatment6.

Nutrient dense food.  Ballerinas are notorious for eating light, and sometimes rumored to have eating disorders.  But, the ballet diet revolves around nutrition–nutrient dense foods are vital to keep dancers exerting energy while empty calories (goodbye, Mallomars!) are avoided, or enjoyed in small amounts.  While we don’t suggest that you fully actualize a strict ballet diet, the concentration on nutrition is worth noting for those trying to get back into shape.  For example, a ballerina would eat nourishing salmon and spinach avoiding empty calories like french fries and candy.  Think fresh.  

Do #2.  Another reason why unwholesome, internally aggravating foods cannot be consumed by dancers is because their constant movement would intensify their symptoms.  Though the internal effects of those unhealthy foods are not as noticeable to more sedentary folks like ourselves, they are equally harmful.  We, like dancers, should be having healthy and regular bowel movements, avoiding greasy foods that chronically disrupt the flow of our body’s waste management system.

Remember to move every day.  Dancers are blessed with lifestyles that enable them to move frequently, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t include more movement in our days.  Get reacquainted with your body and discover all that it’s capable of by starting small with walking and stretching.

It’s a celeb secret!  Want lean, strong legs?  Pull a Carrie Bradshaw!  Sarah Jessica Parker does ballet to reinforce her long, muscular legs.  Drew Barrymore, Eliza Dushku, Ashley Benson and others have followed suit, incorporating barre classes into their workout regimen³.

It’s an athlete’s secret!  Professional coach Monika Schloder advises swimmers and other athletes to practice ballet for gentle strength training and as a way to avoid burnout–literally (as it’s easy on joints) and figuratively.  According to Schloder, ballet strengthens bone density and “delays the onset of osteoporosis for both females and males5.”

We hope that the barre method or another form of dance gives you the tight buns and enhanced energy you’re seeking.  Au revoir, Pulpies!

Kate Bader-Autoimmune Ally

 Sources:

1. http://www.shape.com/celebrities/celebrity-workouts/natalie-portmans-black-swan-workout

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/fashion/at-ballet-workouts-getting-that-dancer-physique.html?_r=0

3. http://www.shape.com/celebrities/celebrity-workouts/celeb-workouts-youve-never-heard/slide/6

4. http://barmethod.com/pdf/TheBarMethodStory.pdf

5. http://coachingbest.com/articles/ballet-for-swimmers-modified-exercises-for-cross-training/

6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22053537

Photo: Courtesy of Quinn.Anya for Creative Commons

Video: Courtesy of XHIT Daily Fitness.

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