SO YOU WANT TO DANCE?
The answer to a toned bod and sexy abs? Dance, baby, dance! By Tengku Zai.
How ballet has taken over pop and revolutionised exercise culture
From Christian Louboutin’s pointe heels to BAZAAR’s global fashion director Carine Roitfeld, whose most recent issue of CR Fashion Book was a love letter to ballet, the ballet-fashion connection is a strong one. On the flip covers of CR Fashion Book, Roitfeld featured ballet superstar Sergei Polunin and a fashion take on the pointe shoe by artist Brigitte Niedermair. She even ran a make-believe interview with the late and great Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian choreographer deemed as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th Century.
Ballet is a formalised art, the roots of which extend to the Italian Renaissance. Its name traces back to ballare, which means ‘to dance’ in Italian. But the formation of the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) by Louis XIV in the 17th Century, and within it, the first professional ballet company, explains the heavy use of the French language in ballet terminology.
After the technical standards of ballet had advanced and the dance established itself as a serious art form by the 18th Century, classical ballet saw many reinventions. First came the ballerina gradually stealing the spotlight from her male dancers, to Romanticism (featuring ballerinas as otherworldly beings in folkloric storylines), then Neoclassical ballet that melds classical and contemporary ballet movements, and ultimately contemporary ballet that moves to the sounds of pop music with a blend of modern dance and ballet techniques. Dance, in its purest form, can be credited for sculpting the lean silhouette we so desire. Just look at Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Improving cardiovascular endurance and strength while giving you toned abs, defined calf muscles, and strong shoulders, no wonder there has been a significant rise in dance-inspired workouts such as The Bar Method (created based on barre work) favoured by Drew Barrymore and Kelly Osbourne, and the Thigh Dancing Home Workout (Kelly Ripa counts as a follower).
Ballet moves have also been integrated into modern dance. Now before you get to thinking it’s all hip-hop, crumping, and MTV-style choreography, the discipline requires a generous dose of ballet technique. Think of modern dance as the less “imperialist”, more expressive younger sister of ballet, an amalgamation of techniques as the catalyst for footwork, tribal contractions and releases, blues-inspired fall and recovery, and a dash of classic turns and leaps. Although the choreography is set, there’s always room for improvisation. You can even dance to whatever tune you like.
SCHOOL OF POP
“For someone who starts dance at a later age, modern is more doable than ballet as the latter’s technique is a lot harder,” explains Shirena Hamzah, founder of Dancesteps Studio in Solaris Mont’Kiara. “The modern syllabus involves a section similar to Pilates mat work that focuses on the core and abs. Other exercises focus on the glutes, flexibility, hip loosening, and overall strengthening. I would say that it’s a very complete form of exercise. For cardio, there are jumps, kicks, and turns.”
Everyone’s journey through dance is different. “It’s up to us whether the music is fast or slow,” reveals Shirena. “This changes the difficulty level of the exercise.” Even if you’re dancing as a workout, according to Shirena, there’s no need for stagnation. “Some of our students are in their 40s or 50s. It’s a great form of exercise as long as you don’t have bad knees,” she shares. “And for those who are persistent, we eventually place them into an Intermediate level or Intermediate Foundation class so there is progression should you be up to it.”
Regardless of what type of dance one chooses to master, dancers are also the only athletes who aren’t allowed to show how much it hurts. Take it from someone who only started dancing at 17. The sensation when you’re trying to stretch and use muscles you never even knew existed constantly reminds you of the trite but true adage “no pain, no gain.”
As a dancer, you become aware of your body in a whole new way. Many years ago while I was still under Shirena’s tutelage, I remember her telling us before getting on stage: “Hold your poses and don’t rush through the steps. You’re holding that pose for a reason; it’s for the cameras. You need to try and sustain. When you’re flying in the air, stay there.”