Misconceptions abound about ballet. One is that dance lessons are the preserve of childhood. By the time we’re adults, we often think we’re too old to learn new tricks like pliés and arabesques.
Then there are the impossibly toned physiques and breathtaking skills of professional ballet dancers that suggest it’s an art form out of reach of us mere mortals. But Sophie Emery, a rehabilitation physiotherapist at The Australian Ballet, says that’s just not true.
“It’s so accessible to everyone,” she says. “You don’t have to be a prima ballerina to get something out of dance. It’s been part of human culture for thousands of years.”
The Australian Ballet is one of many organisations that switched to online offerings during the Covid-19 lockdown, offering ballet classes through its At Home With Studios platform. Here, aspiring ballerinas – or anyone interested in having fun while getting fit – can learn the foundations of ballet from the comfort of their living room.
“People come to it assuming you have to be really fit or flexible,” says Emery. “But everyone can gain something from ballet.”
Here’s what you need to know about The Australian Ballet’s At Home With Studios.
How do the online classes work?
At Home With Studios releases new videos every Tuesday at 4pm. Each class costs $25, and students can watch the videos as many times as they like during the week.
Former Australian Ballet artists teach the classes, which are split into three levels: beginner, for newcomers keen to learn the basics of ballet, intermediate, which focuses on technique, and advanced, for experienced dancers.
What are the essentials you need to learn ballet?
Forget the tutu – “enthusiasm” is the only essential prerequisite for learning ballet, says Emery. A ballet class requires minimal equipment; just comfortable workout gear and a sturdy chair or stool, around hip-height, to act as a barre. Find a space at home around two metres square, and if you don’t have dance shoes or ballet flats, go barefoot.
What sort of workout do you get from a ballet class?
Ballet offers a whole-body workout, says Emery. “It’s an incredibly holistic way to approach fitness,” she says. “It tackles not only strength and core control, but also coordination and musicality.”
A particular area of focus is the lower leg. “It’s so important to protect your ankles and your feet as you get older,” Emery says. “It’s also a really nice way of gaining mobility without stretching.” Port de bras – a series of arm movements, such as moving from first to fifth position – guarantee a workout for the upper body too. “It’s also a beautiful way to reverse the effects of sitting all day in an office or at home,” she says.
Ballet is also ideal for fitness. The At Home With Studios classes start slow and gradually build in intensity towards the end of the session, when students execute jumps known as petit allegro and grand allegro. “It’s what we call the ‘puffy’ part of class, which is very good for cardiovascular fitness,” says Emery.
What are the health benefits of learning ballet?
A ballet class doesn’t just improve your physical strength and fitness, it provides a mental workout too. Science shows the process of learning combinations of steps (known as “enchainments”) and movements in time to music improves memory, attention and visuospatial processing. Dance has also been shown to play an important role in human behaviour by promoting social closeness – something obvious if you’ve ever spent time on a dancefloor – and has a positive effect on creativity. Dance therapy is also used to treat patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. “It’s such a brilliant, joyous experience dancing to beautiful music,” says Emery. “Just approach it with an open mind.”
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of The Australian Ballet.