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Ballet is a body-centric art form, and the tights and leotards expose every curve and muscle. Long, lean legs are legendary, especially on the iconic "Balanchine ballerina." Ballerinas use time-tested strategies to shape legs and torsos, and you don't have to starve yourself or live in a dance studio for a body that could belong to Giselle or the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Long, lean legs and torso depend on high energy, endurance and the core. Dancers are athletes, superbly conditioned and trained for stamina. A fitness plan to give you a ballet body begins with aerobic conditioning to help boost your metabolism, burn primarily fat rather than muscle and increase stamina to help keep you active and injury-free. Dancing itself can give you a good cardio workout, but whatever aerobic routine you choose, select exercises that will help to improve balance and flexibility and focus attention on your core. Juilliard School physical therapy director Katy Keller recommends stabilizing your pelvis with deep core muscle work. Strong abs and hips create a longer line for dancers by eliminating gripping the outside of the leg. A powerful core is the key to the fluid movement that contributes to a lean appearance.
The Pilates Option
There's a reason you find so many dancers in Pilates class. Joseph Pilates designed his exercise program to create long, lean muscles, and the workouts on the mat build strength without bulk. Author of "The Dancer's Way" and former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton recommends Pilates to stretch the large muscle groups in the legs. Single-leg circles on a mat work your hips, abs, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs. The single-leg stretch challenges the abs and obliques, stretches the hamstrings and works the hip flexors while you lengthen the leg strongly and point the toes. The spine stretch forward lengthens the spine, tightens the abs and stretches the hamstrings. Side kicks to the front trim your butt, lengthen your legs and flex your ankles.
Ballet Barre Body
Use the precise, controlled moves of ballet to tone and lengthen your legs and lower body. RelevГ©s, balancing on one leg and raising and lowering the heel, engage your thighs, abs and calves. Try a passГ©, for slimmer, stronger glutes and thighs. While lying on your side on a mat, focus on the gesturing leg as you slide your pointed toes up the support leg and then extend the working leg to the ceiling. An attitude lift while seated on a mat works glutes, inner thighs and hip flexors. Rond de jambe Г terre is a strong point through the extended leg and foot as the toes make controlled circles on the floor for lengthening and strengthening from hip to toe. A barre routine in a gym should skip quad work in favor of exercising inner thighs, calves and knees with small toning moves.
Ballet demands so many hard hours of classes, rehearsals and performances that keeping weight on can be a problem for professionals like Wendy Whelan, principal dance with the New York City Ballet. But if you aspire to long and lean, don't try starvation to emulate the skinniest soloists. Low-fat is a healthy watchword for a slimming diet. Nutrition trumps calories, even for weight loss, so balance your intake with moderate portions of complex carbohydrates, protein and unsaturated fats. Remember that the least-processed grains give you fiber and long-lasting energy to prevent hunger pains and fatigue. Have a dancer's breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal and whole fruit. Eat plenty of vegetables, calcium from low-fat dairy, protein from legumes, nuts, beans, and lean turkey or fish. Stay hydrated during your workouts as those beautiful, toned lines begin to appear.