Two dancers with two different approaches to ballet have something in common: a barre class that rocks.
Leila Fazel, a former ballet dancer (Dance Theater of Harlem) and co-founder of Aerospace High Performance Center in NYC, teaches a barre class called Aerobarre that's designed for non-dancers. Aerobarre is a cardio-based fusion of ballet and boxing set to house music. You'll perform barre moves at high repetitions using a body bar (long weighted bar) instead of the traditional ballet barre. Expect to throw punches one minute and plie jump the next. Just follow Leila's lead and make sure to go easy on the weights. I was a little ambitious and chose 5 lb dumbbells until Leila noticed and set me up with 2 pounders. When you're throwing jabs with weights in your hands, 2 pounds can easily feel like 10! Even though you're working with weights, there's a graceful flow to Aerobarre which Leila attributes to the similarities between ballet and boxing:
Both require balance, agility, coordination, timing, recall, strength, discipline, and are rhythmic in movement. Both promote lean muscle tone for the upper and lower body and both require the core to be engaged all the time which in turn strengthens the core and allows for speed and power.
Aerobarre is a workout that challenges the mind as much as the body. Bring 100% of your mental focus and a pair of quick feet to class. If you've taken any kind of aerobics or martial arts class before, catching on won't be a problem. If you're a dancer, even better but it's not required.
Advanced Beginner Ballet, taught by Kat Wildish at Alvin Ailey, is a spectacular class rooted in classical ballet. Non-dancers are welcome but unless you know the five ballet positions, you might find yourself shadowing the person near you at the barre. That's what I did and frankly, I had a blast. The class setting feels like a scene from a movie. Dancers fill the class auditorium, poised at their barres. Live piano music plays on cue as Kat Wildish wisks through rows of dancers, calling out instructions. I had to pinch myself. I never imagined participating in a class taught by a former ballerina for the New York City ballet and American Ballet Theater. Even though I was out of my league, Kat welcomed me to the group and modified my form to help me stand taller (it's a lot harder than you think).
Barre exercises in Kat's class are the kind that inspired workout programs like Physique 57 and the Bar Method. The difference is that Kat stresses balance, posture, placement and timing over endurance and muscle fatigue. Instead of high repetitions of grunt-worthy leg lifts you'll challenge yourself to elegantly stay lifted on your toes. You'll focus on arm movement and placement, which is just as important as leg work in ballet. It makes for a challenging workout, especially for non-dancers who'll discover a new range of fluid motion. Expect to sweat--appearing graceful is hard work!
A great class is not without a great teacher. Kat Wildish was definitely born to teach and her anecdotes prove it. She's seen it all and knows what it feels like to be the Sugar Plum Fairy. She's a force in the NYC dance world with many adoring students (I had to wait in a fan line to chat with her after class). Taylor Gordon writes this about her:
The first impression ballet instructor Kat Wildish gives when teaching is that she's loud, sarcastic, and wildly hilarious. (source)
Her character initially caught me off guard but then put me at ease as I struggled to mime the girl in front of me. Who knew laughing was allowed in ballet?! Kat teaches a class you want to take again and again because deep down everyone wants to be a dancer, and this is the place to do it. Advanced Beginner Ballet is an ongoing class at Alvin Ailey. Drop in's and regulars are welcome. Bring ballet shoes (like these) and wear comfortably stylish clothes. This class is open to all ages and skill levels. Kat is quick to email back with any questions you may have about her class or private lessons. You can contact her HERE.
Aerobarre, Thursdays 9.30am @ Aerospace - 212.929.1640
Advanced Beginner Ballet, Mon-Wed-Fri @ Alvin Ailey - 212.405.9000