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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ballet porn? Not exactly.


VIDEO: "New York City Ballet Workout Vol. 2"
STYLE: Ballet-inspired stretches, resistance exercises and standing barre exercises, plus a bit of aerobics
INTENSITY: Light to moderate
STRUCTURE: Three short warm-up segments; 25 minutes of resistance exercises; just under 20 minutes of barre exercises; short cool-down; tacked-on aerobic section at the end.
GIST: A lovely workout, though uneven in pacing and structure. Gorgeous classical music is the biggest star here. The dancers are beautiful but blank; the production values are top-notch, with moody lighting and a sleek look. The exercises are geared toward strength training and some ballet basics, but for aspiring dancers, it can't replace a real class. 


Balletophiles are kind of creepy, and I say that as one of them.

We love ballet for the art itself, yes, but dance is the one art that uses the human body as its sole tool, and that leads to a definite creep factor in the envy, fascination, awe and delight that ballet fans take in examining dancers' bodies. If you're just as happy watching dancers at their daily barre work as in a performance, (or needed some private time after watching Baryshnikov in "The Turning Point"), you know what I mean. 


The "New York City Ballet Workout" series (there's just two of them) is a feast for ballet creepers in its wonderfully lit, sleekly produced style -- all those bods! -- but you don't need to be a huge ballet fan to enjoy it as a workout. In fact, too much ballet envy could hinder your "NYCB Workout" experience, because this is a basic, ballet-inspired workout first and an Angelina Ballerina escapade second. You have to actually, you know, work. Not just practice your port de bras and do some wobbly pirouettes in the mirror. (Not that I ever do that, of course.)


First off, the music. The music! It's all gorgeous classical selections, some from the ballet canon (beaucoup Tchaikovsky, whee!) and some just 'cos they're purdy (some Brandenburg concertos here, a killer Beethoven symphony there) which is an absolute rarity in workout video land. There's an alternate "contemporary" soundtrack, but it's god-awful and sometimes doesn't even match the movements. 

A brisk standing warmup, led by four NYCB dancers in all-too-boring lycra shorts and tank tops, gets your heart rate up while making you glad you spent 20 minutes looking for your old leotard and pink tights to wear. Ballerina pretend time! 

Then, though, it's down to the floor for a slowly-paced but thorough series of exercises that work the abs, back, legs, thighs and butt. This goes on about 20-30 mins. Then, finally, the barre work, which isn't done with a barre but standing freely, which actually makes it a bit harder. Pliés, tendus, degagés, passés, blahdeeblah... Those exercises really get you working, but they're over in less than 20 minutes, so you're left semi-relieved at being done but also like dang, Pete, this was just getting good! 


Pete is real-life Ballet Master and soggy-bottom ball-buster Peter Martins, who narrates instructions throughout the workout in a restrained purr so laden with gravitas one imagines him recording the voice track while examining a golden tray of severed fingers and stroking a hairless cat. Even the dancers seem  a little scared of him, as they all keep blank (kinda too blank) faces throughout the workout. 

"The NYCB Workout 2" has an "aerobic" section where you follow along to some stiff, jig-like choreography modified from the original "Tarantella," but even the makers of the DVD cast it off as a bit of chaff, because they tack it on after the real workout's over. Like, "OK, if you really wanna keep going, even though we've had our cool-down and stuff, I guess there's this." 


This video wants to be refined, contemporary and un-frivolous, and it is. If Peter Martins comes off as a total hard-ass, it's for your own benefit, because he gives one of the best explanations of proper technique I've ever seen in a workout video. Not ballet technique, necessarily, but the crucial importance of holding in ones abdominals. He calls it "bracing" the abs. Jack LaLanne called it "using Mother Nature's girdle." Whatever you call it, it'll save you a world of back problems and other injuries while increasing the effectiveness of your workout. 

A caveat: If you really, really want to be a ballet dancer, this video is SO not the answer! Get thee to a good class, go as often as you can and work on building strength in your ankles and feet. That's really the only way. Getting to pretend, though, while having a nice workout, isn't a bad alternative. 


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