Grace, beauty, and poise. Not necessarily words you’d associate with working out—unless you’re a ballerina, that is. I’m a recent convert to ballet and barre classes, because I love a challenging workout combined with a bit of artistry; I always hold my head a little higher and my back a little straighter as I leave ballet class. My new obsession? Ballet Beautiful.
Mary Helen Bowers, the former professional ballerina who helped Natalie Portman get a ballerina body for her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, is steadily building a fitness empire rooted in the principles of ballet. Scores of women, including Zooey Deschanel and Tracee Ellis Ross, rave about the the quick, challenging workouts of Bowers’ Ballet Beautiful program. And her new Ballet Beautiful book, with a foreword penned by Portman, provides step-by-step exercises, as well as a detailed rationale as to why and how her program can get you that coveted ballerina-esque grace and poise, as well as a strong, lithe, dancer’s body.
Bowers was nice enough to talk with me about her new book, the Ballet Beautiful program, some of the negative backlash against dance-inspired workouts, and the importance of balance in a busy woman’s life.
Can you explain a little bit of background about your program and what it entails?
Ballet Beautiful is a fitness and wellness company inspired by the artistry and athleticism of ballet. My program is designed to give anyone–with or without dance training–access to a body that is feminine but strong, and a better sense of grace, balance and beauty in their daily life. The approach is three-pronged:
- The Mindset. Simple steps to get into a positive mindset that will help you set and reach goals and maintain lasting change.
- The Method. An in depth look at how and why Ballet Beautiful works with a mix of challenging exercises and stretches that can be done in 15 minutes or an hour.
- The Lifestyle. A balanced, sensible approach to nutrition that includes healthy meal plans, shopping carts and fun and easy recipes.
Natalie Portman’s intense training for Black Swan got a lot of publicity, but you stress that your program can be effective for any woman. Why do you think women today are attracted to your program, and similar dance-inspired workouts?
While an hour three or more days per week is ideal for a workout, it doesn’t have to be all at once. I’m creating a program that works for real women living busy lives. Women all over the world are using Ballet Beautiful to get fit from home, while they travel, even in their dorm rooms. It’s a targeted approach to fitness that focuses on trouble spots like the inner and outer thighs, butt and abs. The workouts can be done in 15 minutes, or an hour when you have the time. Women respond to Ballet Beautiful because it changes their bodies and fits easily into their lives!
What’s your response to the recent backlash against barre and ballet-inspired workouts for being trendy or less effective than traditional cardio and strength training?
Ballet dancers are incredible athletes and artists. I love this mix! I have noticed that many barre type workouts were created by people with MBAs and no professional dance training. My approach to fitness as a professional ballerina is very different. For example, I would never target the quad and I don’t know any ballerina that is interested in building bigger thighs. Ballet Beautiful isn’t about being trendy or cool. It’s about helping women reshape their bodies and gain the strength and grace of a ballerina. It’s a classically feminine physique.
Traditional cardio and strength training is not something that works on my body as a dancer and that is a big part of why I created this program. Ballet Beautiful offers a low impact cardio solution that sculpts and tones the body without taxing the joints. My resistance and toning exercises target and sculpt sleek ballet muscles through the inside and back of the legs, thighs, center and upper body. I think it’s all about the body shape that you are interested in building.
I’ve recently gotten really into ballet. I finally bought some slippers and have been taking classes, as well as watching tons of documentaries about Russian ballerinas! Do you recommend women who do the Ballet Beautiful program take dance classes, as well?
I love that! Ballet is a great workout and it’s really fun. If you enjoy dancing, Ballet Beautiful will be a terrific complement, but taking actual dance classes is not a requirement. It’s all about what makes you happy!
Do you recommend doing your program in conjunction with other exercises, like running or swimming?
I think again, this is all a question of personal preference. For best results you don’t need to mix anything extra in. Ballet Beautiful provides for toning and cardio. However, I love to swim–it’s a great form of low impact exercise that complements BB really well. If running is your passion, this will help balance out your body by increasing flexibility and strengthening through the back of the legs and thighs.
A lot of the testimonials in your book focus on really fast results seen with Ballet Beautiful. Is that common with the program?
The workout is really targeted! When you try the full series of reps you will see what I mean, it burns in all the right places!
Many people assume that dancers have sparse eating habits, or full-on eating disorders, but you emphasize the notion of “balance.” Can you talk a little bit about how a healthy lifestyle fits into the Ballet Beautiful program?
I think that all women struggle with body image. This is not the special territory of a dancer! Through a lot of trial and error I learned that dieting is a very destructive waste of time. It’s bad for your body and your mind! It’s not very sexy but I sincerely believe that the solution is a balanced and sensible approach to nutrition that focuses on healthy foods like fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and high quality treats in moderation. Eating well makes you feel better; it gives you more energy, confidence and will help you achieve your fitness goals. Ballet Beautiful is more of a lifestyle approach–it’s about balanced, healthy living that makes you happy too!
When I bought your book at the bookstore, the 80-year-old cashier asked me if I was a ballet dancer and said she had been one for many years. I commented that she looked nowhere near 80 years old and she said, “That’s because of ballet!” Do you think ballet and ballet-inspired workouts are sustainable over the long term?
That’s so cute! Of course I totally agree! Ballet Beautiful helps women build strength, grace and beautiful posture. As we age there are clearly going to be modifications to the workout, but age is partly your mindset – it plays back to the principles of BB and how to keep moving and looking and feeling good as the years go by.
Is there anything else Blisstree readers should know?
The results from Ballet Beautiful keep getting better over time! You can supplement the workouts in the book and stay up to date on all things Ballet Beautiful via my website, www.balletbeautiful.com and connect with me and other BalletBeauties on Twitter and Facebook. You can also pre-order our September 4th DVD release with Lionsgate on Amazon now!
Photos: Courtesy of Mary Helen Bowers and Da Capo Lifelong Books