Ballet fitness craze is keeping me on my toes

Adults from all walks of life are taking up ballet as a form of exercise, writes ROISIN BURKE, who put on a tutu and tried it out
Ballet fitness craze is keeping me on my toes
Roisin Burke, Evening Echo and Kevin Hayes, Cork City Ballet Dancer & Ballet Teacher.Picture: Jim Coughlan

BEAUTY, youth and grace are stereotypical attributes of ballet dancers that can sometimes alienate the slouchy, standard looking section of society from taking up the tricky talent.

So, I went bravely where most slouchy, standard looking individuals dare not venture in order to determine if ballet was in fact as elitist as you would imagine.

In was pleasantly surprised to discover the art of ballet is quite accessible to the masses and in fact, here in Cork, there are many who have taken up the skill as adults.

Adult ballet is taught at the Firkin Crane for beginners and, according to teacher Kevin Hayes, the exercise is fast becoming the latest fitness phenomenon to sweep across the Rebel County.

Kevin, 26, who has been doing ballet since he was a child said there are a number of attributes to practising ballet.

“It is great for strength, stamina, flexibility, memory retention and posture.”

The ballet teacher, who is just home from London where he had been working as a professional dancer for the past five years said he has been bombarded with calls and texts about the class for weeks before the course kicked off.

“It is great to see. There are so many different walks of life showing an interest in the practice. The demand is huge.”

Speaking about the appeal of ballet, Kevin said it held a degree of intrigue and mystery as well as the list of benefits it carries for the body and mind.

“It takes a lot of drive, determination and dedication to become a professional ballet dancer, but it is worth it. It is very rewarding.

“My advice to anyone thinking about taking up ballet would be to dive right in. Don’t be shy.”

Roisin Burke. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Roisin Burke. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Taking Kevin’s advice, I took on the challenge of pirouettes and plié for an evening with varied results.

Firstly, it is not as easy as it looks. All that effortless movement and gliding motions takes a surprising amount of effort.

Secondly, having perfect posture is extremely fatiguing. It’s hard work remembering to keep your shoulders back, tummy in, hips straight and chin up. It’s just plain difficult.

Finally, the third point I would make is, as beautiful and flawless as ballet is as a professional performance, it is equally as horrifically ugly in the arms of complete beginners.

Standing in front of a mirror butchering step after step is a little funny after you get used to your lack of natural talent.

Once you get over these initial surprises, the class is enjoyable. Enjoyable in a unique and interesting way.

In my experience, humour is vital, you have to be able to laugh at yourself making an absolute hames of basic moves and beginner techniques.

Speaking to founder and artistic director of the Cork City Ballet, Alan Foley, I learned that ballet in a professional capacity is something not many can achieve and for most it is a case of enjoying not excelling.

“A lot of people over the years have this image of ballet dancers as sort of these out of world types and specimens and they are not they are just normal people who just happen to take this up as a profession.”

Mr Foley then outlined the specific qualities and characteristics needed for someone to consider ballet as a professional opportunity.

“There are certain things that you need such as long legs, long arms, a small head on top of a long neck, all of these things are needed to create the beautiful classical line that ballet requires.

“You need a strong body, you need a flexible body, you need a thing called turnout which is the ability to turn out the legs from your hips, that’s pretty rare. You need a beautifully proportioned body, you need beautiful legs, you can’t have bockity knees or bow legs.

“The list is endless, you need beautifully arched feet, which are very rare, so when you point your feet a kind of a bump comes up from the top of the foot, which makes it look very nice, particularly when the foot is in the air.

“You need to be musical, you need to be rhythmical, you need to have a steely determination, you need to have a very strong constitution, you also need to be clever, the language of ballet is actually in French, so you need to be kinda smart to learn it... and on top of all that you need to be very strong-willed and determined because, if you think about it, how many other professions do you know where you stand in front of a mirror for eight hours a day criticising your body.

“So you would really want to be on top of your game and very sure of your bits and pieces to be able to pull that off, but that said, as a hobby or a pastime, it is only dancing.”

Alan made the point that less than 1% of the population will consider ballet as a professional occupation and for everyone else it is something to enjoy as a highly entertaining outlet.

“Professional ballet is completely different, children study full time from the age of ten to be a professional ballet dancer, but anybody can do it, it’s like saying only footballers who are professional can play football, anybody can play, anyone can enjoy the social aspect of the activity.

Roisin Burke.Picture: Jim Coughlan
Roisin Burke.Picture: Jim Coughlan

“The main thing is it is a pleasant type of exercise, difficult, but pleasant, because you are doing it to beautiful music.

“It is for everybody, it is only dancing, it is a fabulous way to keep fit and exercise the body and really working every single muscle group. It’s good for everyone.”

Alan said not everyone can make it to the highest level, but it is a beautiful way of keeping fit and doing ballet will give you an enhanced appreciation and respect for the art of ballet.

“One of the greatest pleasures I have in life is hearing people who have gone to the ballet for the first time in their life gushing about the beauty and grace of the performance. They have a real appreciation for how difficult it is, once they have tried it.”

Alan advised anyone who has an inclination or interest in ballet to give it a shot.

“Check it out and see if you like it.”

And there’s no more perfect time, as the 25th anniversary production of Sleeping Beauty is taking place at the Opera House in November.

Alan said it has everything you could ask for from a ballet performance.

“We have a stellar line-up of dancers, our two stars are husband and wife team: Ekaterina Bortyakova and Akzhol Mussakhanov two principal dancers with the Moscow State Ballet.

“They have been to Cork many times and performed with the company many times, but Sleeping Beauty is really one of their signature pieces so it should be something to behold.

“It really is a beautiful production anyway. It’s got everything in it, particularly for people who might be coming to the ballet for the first time, it has got all the glamour, magnificent costumes, it really is what everyone thinks ballet should be, you know beauty, elegance and stunning music, lovely set, it has everything.”

Sleeping Beauty will be performed at the Opera House from Thursday, November 9 for four performances.

For more information log onto www.corkcityballet.com.

Roisin Burke.Picture: Jim Coughlan
Roisin Burke.Picture: Jim Coughlan

If you are interested in trying out adult ballet classes at the Firkin Crane, they run from September until May (30 classes). There are two classes, on Wednesday evening, one for beginners and one for improvers. The Absolute Beginners Ballet is on from 6pm to 7.15pm and the Beginners and Improvers ballet is on at 7.15-8.30pm. The course costs €75 for six classes or €15 for a drop in. Contact Kevin Hayes on 089 4832118, follow Cork City Ballet on Twitter @corkcityballet or log onto their website www.firkincrane.ie/cork-city-ballet/

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