Fitness From A Ballerina’s Point of View

Ballet-inspired workouts have been all the rage for a few years now.  The birth of “Barre” workouts really put ballet into the spotlight.  Although, as a lifelong dancer myself, I can tell you barre classes alone fall short in creating a dancer’s physique.  I will give credit to Barre workouts for bringing a greater awareness and understanding of the demands and awesome athletics required of professional dancers.  It is immediately clear to anyone when they see a photo of Misty Copeland- she is one strong, fierce female!

And as a trainer, these are the exact qualities I hope to impart on my clients.  I have learned over my dance and fitness career- every body is different and being able to pull from my background in classical ballet, personal training, dance, Pilates, yoga, and barre gives me a vast repertoire to push my clients towards their goals. So with that said; ballet is a stronghold in all my training sessions.

Vanessa Dunn

Ballet is the basis for all forms of dance.  And I will go further in saying it can be used as a base for building all aspects of physical fitness. Ballet training requires focus on healthy body composition, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility – as well as motor fitness: power, speed, agility, balance and coordination.   Now one thing I feel is important to mention when talking about creating a “dancer physique” is dancers spend most of their lives- 6 to 7 days a week, 6-10 hours a day sculpting their bodies towards perfection.  Although this type of commitment is pretty much out of the question for the average client…we can still learn from their practice.

One of the most sought after aesthetics of a ballerina is POSTURE!

Today’s world has us hunched over from sunup to sundown. Improving posture not only makes you appear taller and slimmer, it’s an instant confidence builder. Triple check!

Here’s a little trick on creating a poised, elegant posture; Imagine being hung from the ceiling- like a puppet on a string. The idea is to effortless stack one bone on top of the next creating aplomb line. Feel your neck elongating and your head resting comfortably on top of it, the shoulder blades pull down the back, leaving the top of your shoulders (trapezius) relaxed.

In my opinion, you never want to strengthen muscles when they are in a less than perfect postural position.  It is paramount to create the necessary flexibility in the body first, then enforce it by strengthening muscles within that position. The very nature of ballet embodies this concept.  Ballerinas train tirelessly to create an aesthetic of grace and ease within their movement. First developing the mind/body awareness and using that to create a high state of efficiency within their movement. Improving movement patterns will reduce stress and fatigue and allow for greater results on the task being performed.  Something everyone can appreciate!

So in my training sessions, I focus on training several muscle groups at once in smooth, continuous movements.  Over time developing proper technique, you can actually re-train the body to move in a safer, more beautiful and efficient way – invaluable for injury prevention, recovery, sports performance, good posture and optimal health.

Here are a few of my personal go-to moves:

  1. Side-Lying Legs Series with Rotation

A staple in Pilates, but by utilizing external rotation of the hips you’ll get out of those big muscle groups (quads) and into your smaller leaner muscles- like the inner thighs.  I go thru a variety of moves – passé, grand battements, rond de jombes, développés and enveloppés, en cloche…..not only is this a great leg workout, it requires so much core stability, and of course I’m always stressing the importance of posture even while laying on the floor! Amp it up- throw on some ankle weights, and prop yourself up on your forearm so you’re in a modified side plank position. Top arm held in fifth position. 16- 32 reps of each move!

  1. Turned Out Abs

Laying on your back, soles of the feet together; knees bent and open (butterfly pose) hands can be behind the head for support or elongated into 5th position over the head.

This is a great position to feel the hip flexors.  Start by making sure the front of the hips are soft, focus on using the core to lift instead of those pushy hip flexors (they always wanna show off)

32 small crunches- eyes on the navel, watch it pull in.  The higher the shoulder blades lift- the lower the navel pulls down!

Continue crunches taking both legs towards the ceiling, in a diamond shape.  32 reps

Hold the crunch- lower 1 leg at a time tapping the toe- alternate legs for 32 reps.

Finale- both legs lower together- go as low as you can maintaining a neutral spine. Exhale as you lift to re-enforce the connection into the abdominals.

  1. Grand Battements with Planks

This series is a staple in all of my cardio classes-  you’re getting cardio, flexibility, muscle strength and endurance all in one!

Starting in a turned out lunge position; arms held high in 5th- 16 grand battements front then repeat to the side.

Focusing on length over height- stretching the leg all the way thru the pinky toe.

In between sides drop to a forearm plank- 32 hip twists, tapping one hip to the floor alternating sides in a rainbow motion.

All the while having FUN!! Dance is about freeing your spirit, freeing your mind and body.  Seriously next time you hear the beat drop— let it take over.  Remember how good it used to feel dancing around your bedroom as a kid….keep that passion alive! Feeling good, looking good, and being healthy is a lifestyle, embrace the journey, and make it our own!

And pass it on!


Vanessa Dunn is a  Carbon38 #Team38 Trainer and a trainer at Ballet Bodies and Hot Pilates in Los Angeles. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and use her #Team38 personal link or code VANESSADUN50 for her #Team38 discount when you shop Carbon38.

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