The an­swer to a toned bod and sexy abs? Dance, baby, dance! By Tengku Zai.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

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.



“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.”

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