Balletone: Heel and D'oh!

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Let's make two things clear: First, I am a sub-average dancer. Second, things get worse when I dance in gym clothes. (Picture a fireplug with hairy legs. Better yet, don't.) So why did I agree to attend a fitness class called Balletone? Ah, what I won't do for my readers.

Balletone, which was invented in 1994 by professional ballerina Jody Hoegstedt, is not a strict dance class: Ballet moves have been modified to accommodate people (ahem) who can't stand on their tiptoes without hanging from a chin-up bar. Its goal is to tone muscle, improve balance and muster physical grace. It is also one of an increasing number of novel classes offered by Washington area health clubs.

Balletone instructor Rebecca Elliott met me at the Northwest Sport & Health Club in the District, demonstrated basic starting positioning -- heels together, toes out (penguin style), neutral spine and soft knees -- then popped in a CD and began my indoctrination. Luckily this was a demo and not a class, so there were no witnesses.

We warmed up with a series of moves called pliés -- gentle knee bends with back straight, heels still together, knees pointing out over the toes -- and I'm thinking, "Hey, maybe it's not too late to audition for Alvin Ailey."

Next came a mildly challenging exercise in which we brushed one foot lightly along the floor out in front, then behind, then to the side, then off the ground -- all while trying to keep the other leg still. (Did I mention my legs are short and hairy?)

Elliott did each exercise once slowly, then transitioned to "tempo," meaning "faster than Briley can do it without screwing up." We did hop-steps -- springing daintily to the side, deftly sweeping the trailing foot across the floor before going airborne again -- with encouragement to add arm swings "if you feel up to it."

At this point I noticed a few things: Aside from the balance training that Balletone offers (as we note often here, balance is a crucial component of lifelong fitness), I was engaging my core, challenging my quads and calf muscles and elevating my heart rate moderately. I was sufficiently preoccupied that I didn't dwell on the effort involved.

Balletone draws mostly women but is equally beneficial for men, especially those who play sports. "I've worked with a men's hockey team and other [male] athletes," Elliott said, "and they all love it, even if they don't want people watching them."

Other offbeat classes in the region include:

· Body Combat , which combines moves from various self-defense disciplines (Gold's Gym).


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