Weekend leisure: On pointe for fitness

By Danielle Wright

Ballet classes are popping up all over the country, and not just for children. Danielle Wright finds out what the fuss is about at dance class with Company Z founder Timothy Gordon.

Timothy Gordon takes a class of adults through ballet lessons at his studio at his Grey Lynn studio. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Timothy Gordon takes a class of adults through ballet lessons at his studio at his Grey Lynn studio. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Fashion has been borrowing from ballet for years and now, with the success of the much-acclaimed film Black Swan, many of us who gave it up before our tweens are turning to ballet fitness classes in search of the lean dancer's body.

On a cold autumn night on the top floor of a house in Grey Lynn, eight of us are lying on the floor, flexing and pointing our toes to the roof.

We're under the expert guidance of much-admired ballet master and choreographer Timothy Gordon, who gently teases us into feeling relaxed.

"Babies put their toes in their mouths all the time," he says. "It's natural, we must all do it at least once a day."

The ballet class is aimed at adults with or without ballet dancing experience, and even a latecomer arriving 40 minutes after the start of the class is warmly welcomed.

While many here tonight are professional dancers, or would like to be, there's no sense of dancer snobbery and the exercises are well within grasp of a complete beginner.

We're doing floor barre, which was developed for ballet dancers who were travelling and away from a ballet studio, or for injured dancers who use the floor for support.

Because it's without a barre, the handrail used during ballet warm-up exercises, it's also perfect for latecomers to ballet who might have more physical limitations than a younger dancer.

Much like a Pilates or yoga floor class, floor barre works with the body's core strength and it exercises all the major important muscle groups, while safely supporting the body on the floor.

Timothy says that floor barre exercises are the building blocks of ballet, "without them you can't be a ballet dancer because they strengthen the muscles needed for the jumps and lifts".

As we stretch and extend ourselves, there's a definite feeling that our bodies are being re-aligned, all-important after a day sitting at a desk, standing with bad posture on the job, or with a heavy toddler on your hip.

Looking around, half the class are male dancers and I do pretty well following the person next to me until we're told to roll over and I face the wall.

That's when listening to the precise instructions is hard, but Timothy is always there to help.

He clicks his fingers in time to our movements, like you'd expect of any good ballet teacher, and it's then I'm transported back to that 4-year-old ballet class doing rounds of Knees Up Mother Brown.

Tiring of the Cockney pub song warm-up, I gave it up in favour of some other sport, probably because it's notoriously difficult to master, yet looks almost effortless to watch.

Unlike the image portrayed in Black Swan, a ballet workout is not competitive.

After my class, I feel "put back together", and notice a glow from improved blood circulation, and an improved posture.

With an increasing demand for new fitness classes, the line between fitness and entertainment is continuing to blur - it's not enough to lose weight and feel better, it has to be fun too. Learning ballet as an adult is a wonderful way of combining all those benefits.

Getting started

Floor barre classes are available on Tuesdays 5.30pm-6.30pm or Friday 6.30pm - 7.30pm at 14B Westmoreland St East, Grey Lynn. $10 per class. Call 021 160 3098.

Be in to win

We have five double passes to give away to the Royal NZ Ballet's Stravinsky Triple Bill performance at the Aotea Centre, Auckland, on May 26, at 7.30pm. Featuring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the Triple Bill celebrates Igor Stravinsky's inventive compositions with a stylish programme of three vividly diverse works - Petrouchka; a new dance called Satisfied with Great Success, set to Stravinsky's Scenes de Ballet; and Milagros, set to The Rite of Spring.

To go in the draw, email your contact details to life@nzherald.co.nz with "Ballet" in the subject line by Thursday May 19.

- NZ Herald

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