Ballet Workout Number 7

“Your hips and shoulders, this is all one line, OK?”

I’m getting way more attention than I bargained for, but with the glittering confidence born during previous workouts I have positioned myself almost directly behind our trainer. Well, tough! I can see her clearly and I can definitely see my whole body in the full-length mirror. And she can see me. I’m just an introvert and I wasn’t expecting this, you know?

It’s hard to distinguish exactly how my shoulders and hips should be aligned, because at the same time I’m straining not to drop my “long arms” (“Keep them long, keep them long!”), which already feel like logs, and not slip on one foot while aligning the other. Did I mention my knees were bent?

The trainer attempts to nudge one of my slipper-clad feet in the right direction, but I can’t cooperate and balance without abandoning the whole position. “Don’t work against my hand!” she says encouragingly. I explain about slipping – sorry, explain? I grunt and gasp. I’m told conspirationally that to train in ballet slip-ons is “scheiße” and to go barefoot or find slip-proof socks. Thanks, but no. And after my happiness about finding the slippers, we’re sticking together.

Since I’m still struggling with alignment, my trainer clearly thinks I don’t understand her instructions, because the next thing she says, also encouragingly, is “Quadratisch, praktisch, gut!” As flattering as it is to be compared to one of Germany’s most famous chocolate brands, it’s not enough. I want to tell her which flavor I think I am, but she moves away to the back of the gym to see who else’s hips are lying. I can practically feel the relief of the middle section of the class that they weren’t noticed. On the other hand, they might be too busy sweating.

We mean business. The trainer’s movements are fast, beautiful and the speed of switching between exercises is literally breath-taking. No classical music this time – thumping tribal and gypsy beats fill the room. I want to do what I normally do at a silent disco party, which is go all out, but I can’t. I have to deep, deep plie, then straighten my legs and raise my arms with the grace I’m still sure I possess, then fold them down the middle of my chest (after a few minutes I finally get how to do this) and deep, deep plie once more.

Everyone is making an effort to keep up and I feel a surge of affection towards my classmates. Our trainer is as bendy as a twig and shouts that we’re supposed to be having fun, she wants to see it! We’re doing a quick mix of tendu, step and throw it all out, arms and one leg, switching sides, and I’m focused on following the girl in front of me to keep up with the pace.

During another exercise that involves swinging and switching your arms while your feet are doing something else, I discover that there is a limit to even my multitasking. “Why are you doing it with the same arms?” the trainer asks. “Well…why not?” doesn’t seem like a suitable answer in this case, so I politely say I’m trying.

Balancing on tiptoe with my arms raised above my head refreshes the feeling of glamour and power, as we fill the gym with our various music box ballerina likenesses. Our trainer says that, unfortunately, we don’t have time for exercises on the mat and I silently utter a prayer of thanks (judge me, I don’t care, there’s no POINTE, hahaha). We stretch a little and breathe, which helps with my minor case of sensory overload.

I’m also proud of how I apPLIEd myself, despite my TENDUncy to quietly stick to the back at first. Sometimes you just have to work on your ATTITUDES, and obviously you might get some back.

Don’t you just love what I did there?

 

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Ballet Workout Number Six

I am a swan. My graceful movements are transporting me across the gym. I extend my long arms, one in front of me, one behind me, and I’m not a swan anymore. I’m Odette, y’all!

Imagination is a wonderful thing. In reality I’m sweating from my head down and my legs and arms feel slightly heavy. Our trainer (yet another different one today) is seriously nice. She explains and demonstrates the moves she wants us to make as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to do them, seemingly with complete faith that we will all be able to execute these lovely ballet components. I immediately like her for it. “Long arms, long arms, keep your arms long!” At 5’10, I hope I’ve got that one covered. OK, I know what she means.

I can’t really see what I’m doing, because I’m concentrating on not falling and not crashing in to the women jumping ahead of me. I therefore don’t really now if my moves are lovely, but I’m having a lovely time.

We are lining up in fours and prancing across the gym with varying degrees of…style. I watch, fascinated, as the first few participants seem to do exactly what we were instructed to do, and it looks amazing. We cover the gym in multiple directions – diagonally, straight on, back and forth. I never stop moving, and though it feels like Odette might have turned back in to a walrus instead of a swan, I decide that in my own little show she’s a happy walrus.

To my delight, standing up on tip-toes and balancing while extending my arms upwards and to the sides is working out better and better, as is following the familiar (yes, that’s just what I do now) choreography bits with tendu. We’ve spent most of the class doing exercizes standing up, so that was an interesting switch. I wonder which part of my body I’ll feel responding tomorrow.

A few tell-tale crunches once again pop around the gym once we bend our knees in our first plies. I lower myself extra carefully, not wanting to join the soundtrack, and watch our trainer position her knees turned outside, looking like an upside-down letter T.

I’ll just work on my long arms for now.

 

 

 

Ballet Workout Number Four

I’m already on number four? Unbelievable!

I forgot my towel, but hey, this isn’t a sweaty workout, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. It’s about stretching and poise, right?

Within 10 minutes I’m eating my words. The leg raising exercises seem more complicated this time around, especially when I’m on my knees, trying to maintain elegant positions of everything that’s not in the air while coordinating that which is. The angles to which our trainer can bend herself are mind-blowing. And she talks at the same time, while I try, again, to breathe in and out correctly, and not giggle from slight nerves.

“Other way,” she says suddenly. I would have jumped, being startled, but I can’t, because I’m on my back. One leg is bent at the knee, the other is stretched out behind me, and I’m supposed to reach around my side with one arm and try to touch the (almost) straight leg. “The other way,” our trainer repeats. I start awkwardly rearranging my legs, trying to look like I do this on a daily basis. “No, no, your legs are in the correct position, it’s your head, your head, look the other way!” OH.

Just the evening before, my friend and I had been talking about how nice it was that you could get used to things in the class without being watched or called out (I have no problem with instructions, I’m just attached to my own headspace for a while before I can process them properly). But since we are markedly fewer participants today, we are there to see and be seen.

And seen we are. Details emerge, like how to hold your elbows during the warm-up arm wavy arm movements I like to do so much. It’s easier to distinguish ourselves in the mirror and therefore we’re more in sync as Tchaikovsky plays in the background. We’re our own little ballet company.

My abs, or what currently passes for them, are groaning in protest, but I do my best, sweat trickling down my face, managing not to pant. This time my choreography bit in the end is not half bad and I feel nicely ironed out when class ends.

Ballet Workout Number Two

Today’s workout is kicking my butt… Actually, no, my butt is fine, but other parts of my body, like what I thought were my non-existent abs (surprise!) or my arms are feeling the burn. Welcome to ballet workout number two. I’m doing this thing!

Once again, I’m not doing actual ballet, I’m doing a ballet workout, which incorporates elements of ballet training (on a very minor scale for us beginners with possibly no previous physical ballet experience). But it’s fun to see family and friends’ eyes light up when I mention this type of exercise, and whenever I raise my arms above my head, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty”. Bring it on!

The trainer is different this time and there is no classical music. The routine also varies a little, but that’s fine, because all the magazines tell you it’s good to “switch it up” and “go for variety” as far as your workout is concerned. We start with standing warm-ups and exercises. That childhood question, “How long can you stand on your tippy-toes?” is quickly answered as we’re instructed to do so. Can I? Yes. Can I raise one leg while doing so? Hell no.

But I’m not to be deterred. In my blissful headspace, I look like this:

In reality the trainer notices me discreetly lower my outstretched arms to my hips when we do various combinations of tendu and plie (quick French lessons included in workout!). “Yes, yes, do that to control yourselves, to see where your back is!” she calls out encouragingly. I hope my back is where it’s supposed to be, though I need a few seconds to decipher what “Bellybutton towards your spine!” means. Additional interesting statements include “You have an apple between your chin and your chest!” and “There is a glass of water standing on your back that you need to keep upright!” Well, then, I would be soaked, because my butt is sticking up in the air like someone is pulling it up by a wire. I think I’m just too tall for anything nearing push-up status.

We lie on our backs and are asked to stretch one leg upwards, then grab the back of our calves with our hands and stretch. I just manage to get past my knee and know that there is no way I will make the rest of the distance. I turn my head to look at the floor-length mirrors covering the opposite wall, and spot one bent leg, like a grasshopper, sticking out among a sea of straight ones. Yep, me again, blazing my own trail. What do these women do? Is it because most of them are shorter than me? Do they have decades of yoga behind them?

And another thing. Trainers might look just like you when they enter the gym, but then they start doing exercises, all while talking and explaining them, and you realize they are either aliens or unicorns.

The stretching takes care of the kinks I brought along from a week at my day job and I order some ballet slippers (not shoes) for the next class. Because that’s what I do now, this workout thing and this workout gear stuff.

Ballet Workout: First-Timer Report

It’s Saturday, the sun is shining and I’m making my way to my first ever ballet workout, workout gear pulled on and workout bag in hand… Wait, how did this even happen?!

I’ll tell you how! 2018 arrived and I wanted to do things I’d been thinking of for a while, or at least try. It helped that a dear friend had similar thoughts. Workout clothes, workout bag, work out buddy – that’s just how I do things now!

I signed up at Sportspass and now I’m actually a member of Hamburg’s largest sports club. Wait, how did this happen? I’ll tell you how! Roomy corridor, pleasant receptionist, easy system and cheap monthly rates are all important points, as well as being able to  try out as many courses as you like and (physically) can.

We sat outside the gym, waiting for the previous class to finish, in our workout gear and not worn anywhere else sneakers… and a few girls passed us dressed in seriously ballet-inspired clothes and slippers. Once in the gym, the instructor isn’t there yet, so I covertly sneak glances at what the other participants are doing instead of asking directly if it’s OK to drape my towel over the bar. The cues are easy to identify and the sneakers simply get taken off. My socks don’t slip on the wooden floor and I’m hoping I won’t tear my leggings during a stretch I can’t yet imagine. RRRRip! Please no, these are new.

The instructor arrives, the music starts and with quick relief I discover that we are all following our individual levels of fitness, with no prolonged scrutinizing or comments. The classical music playing is soothing and my mind easily wanders elsewhere during the warm-up. It is my belief that those of us with Russian roots might be predisposed to like ballet. Regardless of whether we’ve actually done it ourselves (as you do) or only seen performances, there is something about ballet that makes the Russian heart flutter and eyes mist up, while images of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake take over our minds. We are genetically and historically primed to respond to these movements and knowingly say, “Ah yes!” when ballet enters conversation with other people.

All of the above might be part of my slight romanticzing of the ballet workout, though I’m practical enough to be careful about the workout part. But I’m not proceeding badly or stiffly at all, and I’m enjoying the stretching parts of the session. However, as soon as we get to exercises involving lying on your back and lifting your legs in various positions, well, oh dear. But this is my very first ballet workout, after all.

We sit back up and stretch forward, trying to touch the tips of our straight legs. This is a predictable challenge. The last time I did this, I was six years old and I could do so with both hands at the same time. It was during a dance class, and my teacher was wonderful – perceptive, patient and competent. I remember her in an emerald-green blouse, grey trousers, with a tiny waist and beautifully applied bright make-up. Maybe these memories are part of the reason I was looking forward to today.

My leg bends before I can reach my toes, like that time my eye would shut before I could put in a contact lens. The voice in my head is alternating between repeating Oh, God and quietly swearing in my best imitation of what everyone else thinks a British accent is. I catch my friend’s eye and have to resist making a face, because we are actually concentrating and no one besides the instructor is saying anything. In fact, I do giggle when I catch another redhead’s eye, because she’s taking a tiny break, like me, but she doesn’t react back. Noted!

I’m still able to get up without a fuss as we get to the final exercises. I mess up the sequence of moves, but the music is lovely and I’m trying to remember whether it’s the opening of the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker (that’s as Russian as I get today). The ballet workout seems to be over before I know it and I am already sure while carefully (just in case) walking out that I will want to come again.

The rest of the day passes and I feel fine, mastering stairs is not a problem, but let’s see what my muscles say tomorrow.