Ballet Beautiful series
After training Natalie Portman for her role in “Black Swan,” ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers has re-released two ballet-inspired workout videos under new titles. I enjoyed them, but found the lack of modifications for people who do not have a ballet dancer’s turnout – practically everyone – was cause for concern. Even though, of course, ballet dancers are extremely strong, I also found it comically demoralizing that someone with such a non-muscular build could be that much stronger than I. Actually, seeing her stretch is demoralizing, too. Ha!
For both DVDs, you’ll want to custom-program the segments to do them straight through, otherwise you’ll return to the main menu at the end of each segment. If you do the workout enough to memorize the sequencing, you can also choose to play the segments with just the music and no instruction. Regardless of programming, however, each segment starts with a long intro credit and a lot of gabbing; I expected long intros to have been removed with the custom program option.
This is a surprisingly dichotomous workout. The music, instruction, and movement are very calm and quiet; however, the number of reps are killer and a bit too fast. My muscles got a tremendous workout, but I didn’t sweat or even get noticeably warm. The ‘stretching’ moments in between moves lasted about 1.5 seconds each: weird, and sort of pointless.
If you try this, don’t attempt to copy her foot and leg positions! Her femur turns out of her hip socket in a way that yours absolutely will not (and should not). Don’t force the position from your feet unless you want to seriously damage your knees and ankles. For example, during the Inner Thighs segment I had to ground my supporting leg behind my moving leg, rather than in front, since I didn’t have the necessary turnout from the hip. I also had to remind myself to pull my moving leg back so it brushed against my supporting foot in order to work the correct muscles.
The DVD consists of 6 segments of varying length:
Bridge – Very hard with a lot of burn! I was thankful for her reminders to relax my shoulders, though she gave no instruction to support and protect the lower back. There was no way I was going up on demi-pointe during some of the bridges; instead, I kept my feet flat on the floor.
Abs – This is a very short segment, but the first half is hard!
Inner Thighs – Good workout, but assumes a turnout that no one but a serious dancer has.
Outer Thighs – I could definitely tell which of my legs was stronger.
Arms – Deceptively hard; I thought the reps would never end, and I was doing practically nothing! Don’t try to sit like she does, which, again, is a factor of her turnout. Sit however is comfortable and allows a supported lower back and spine. I had to keep reminding myself to relax my shoulders as I worked.
Standing – The reps were extremely fast and the segment was very short.
Despite the critical notes, I actually think this is a great workout once you understand there’s no way you will possibly be able to put your appendages in the same positions as she. Yes, it’s true that Natalie Portman learned to do it; but she did nothing else, all day, every day, for something like a year under expert, personal direction. If you use this video, use it to get stronger and more flexible but accept that you won’t be able to move – or in some cases even sit -- like the instructor.
Again, she takes about 1.5 seconds to stretch after finishing sets. Though I didn’t sweat with this one either, I did warm up noticeably. However, that may have had more to do with the fact that after this video arrived in a recent Library purchase order, I quickly tested out the Swan Arms portion on my break while wearing two layers, including a sweater, jeans, and hiking boots (it snowed that casual Friday morning).
This DVD consists of four 15-minute segments:
Swan Arms -- I must admit, if you weren’t concerned about looking like a weirdo or a four-year old pretending to be a bird, this is something you could do at your desk at work. However, you may be deemed disruptive by your coworkers once you start groaning and mumbling insults at Mary Helen Bowers: it really starts to hurt after a while!
15-Minute Body Blast – Don’t expect to keep pace with the instructor in the very first part of this section that focuses on lower abdominals.
Butt Series, Part 1 – Once more, I was too tall to keep pace and my legs had to move at a ridiculously crazy speed if I wanted to keep up with her. You do a lot of work on one leg before transitioning over to the other.
Butt Series, Part 2 – See notes for Part 1; however, this focused more on inner leg, whereas the first worked more of the outer leg.
To end on a very inspirational note, here’s a photo of me doing the “Total Body Workout” at home.*
Oh. Wait. That’s not me: that’s Mary Helen Bowers. Oh well, I guess I can’t find the one of me…. maybe next time.
*Photo of Mary Helen Bowers, by Yelena Yemchuck, taken from www.balletbeautiful.com/about/gallery
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