-- This is a guest post by Liz Stark --
Often times, the world of ballet is unfairly depicted in a rather depressing manner – painfully thin bodies, grueling training schedules, strict diet regimens, and cutthroat competition. However, there is one person in particular who wants to put all of these brutal ballet rumors to rest – Mary Helen Bowers. In her 2012 book, Ballet Beautiful, Bowers (who is a professional ballerina and renowned trainer in NYC) sheds light on the art of ballet, and its benefits for the body and soul.
Training everyone from celebrities (including Natalie Portman, to prepare her for her performance in Black Swan) to the everyday individual, Bowers illustrates in her book that anyone can attain a beautiful ballet body without wreaking havoc on one’s health or figure in the process.
Some of the healthiest bodies in the world are ballet dancers, like the Winter Olympics ice dancers. Many of the figure skaters competing at the 2014 Sochi games take ballet and other off-ice dance classes to strengthen their routines on-ice. Olympians are healthy and muscular, defying the rail-thin standards of classical ballet. I just wish more people knew about this.
As a former ballet dancer myself (that's me on the left), I was automatically intrigued by Bowers’ book and methods – I knew I had to check it out right away, and figure out the balanced approach to ballet and overall well-being. Firstly, it was reassuring to know that Bowers practices what she preaches. Not only is she a professional ballerina (and formerly danced with the New York City Ballet), but she is also the CEO of her NYC-based company and studio, Ballet Beautiful. In order to expand her business and clientele, she offers online training and ballet classes, as well as DVD sets.
Alright, enough of the background information – but I do believe that, with any lifestyle, diet, or exercise book, it is important to know whether or not the author is qualified to give safe, sound advice. Bowers passes this test, in my opinion. Now onto the book details! The book is split up into three parts (three chapters per part): Building Your Ballet Beautiful Mindset, The Ballet Beautiful Program, and The Ballet Beautiful Lifestyle.
Another important part, featured in the introduction, includes the Five Ballet Beautiful Lifestyle Principles: (1) Be prepared; (2) Eat well and often; (3) Substitute for satisfaction; (4) Be flexible; (5) Forgive and move on. Bowers goes into further detail on each of these principles, letting the reader know exactly how to improve on (and how to incorporate) each principle in one’s life.
Part One (Building Your Ballet Beautiful Mindset) reveals Bowers’ past body image struggles and also emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. This chapter is especially helpful, since anyone can benefit from better body image and a better sense of self. Part Two (The Ballet Beautiful Program) features each exercise and stretching routine, ranging from 15 minutes to 60 minutes. There are detailed photographs and descriptions for each exercise and stretch, as well as separate modification suggestions in order to practice safely. While I personally prefer to work out either with a trainer in-person or with a DVD, the photos in this book definitely do not cause confusion as to how to perform the exercise or stretch correctly (which is something that I have struggled with, with some other exercise books).
Part Three (The Ballet Beautiful Lifestyle) is the chapter that brings it all together, in terms of creating a healthy balance in the Ballet Beautiful routine. Bowers differentiates between dieting (which she candidly refers to as “a waste of time”) and smart fueling, providing a full week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. She even provides grocery lists and easy recipes, for more kitchen inspiration. In addition to the week’s worth of meals, there are sample Ballet Beautiful Lifestyle days, pairing the meal plans with exercise and activity levels – no starving ballerinas or ballet enthusiasts on Bowers’ plan!
Even though I do have a previous experience with ballet, I promise you that virtually anyone will love the strengthening, toning exercises in this book – not to mention, the wholesome, absolutely delicious recipes that are as healthy as they are quick to prepare (recipes are adaptable and can appeal to just about anyone!) But I will stop there – I honestly cannot find one bad thing to say about this book, other than that I personally prefer to work out with a DVD rather than photos and instructions written down in a book. But do not let that or the stereotypes associated with ballet deter you from at least checking out this book – Mary Helen Bowers shatters the bad reputation and unhealthy practices, and exemplifies the healthiest way to be active and stay nourished. It is the world of ballet, the balanced way.
I do not want to give away all of the details of the book, so I encourage you to visit www.balletbeautiful.com now to learn more about Mary Helen Bowers and her book, NYC studio, and fitness programs.
When she's not at the gym, Liz Stark can be found in the kitchen baking up healthy treats, at her standing-desk working on writing projects, spending time with family and her adopted "shelter pup"; or taking photographs on her latest traveling adventure.
Top image photograph taken by Stacey Mark courtesy of Ballet Beautiful's gallery.