Ballet Is the New Yoga

It's a different sort of balance.

I don't hate yoga. I liked it quite a lot when I learned it as an undergraduate at DePaul in Chicago. For my friends in the university's theater program, yoga was just another freshman rec they had to endure, and teaching me was a Friday night lark.

And once I started working at a restaurant, yoga was a means of fixing the very real damage I did to myself each shift. I took classes from a mesmerizingly beautiful former actor who had turned the living room of her Palmer Square apartment into a studio. I spent most of my time cursing my hip flexors, which perpetually needed to be "opened" in order to fix the ice-pick of pain in my lower back pain.

Which is to say that when I landed in the East Coast world of Lululemon and the $15 yoga class I was aghast. What fresh hell was this? Exercise, I thought, was a means to an end; in my case, into a body that didn't feel like it was falling apart. I was used to a workmanlike, no-nonsense approach, and these women appeared to have spent more on their outfits than I could afford in groceries. My fate as a D.C. yogi was pretty much sealed when an instructor called out, "Eagle pose. Hold, good, now CRUNCH! Eagle crunches!" I dissolved into laughter.

I'd walk home late from my first job in D.C., past a ballet studio, and look up to see rows of women in identical black-pink uniforms running through the same barre exercises I remembered from 10 years of dancing as a kid. Mindless piano accompaniment. A teacher who calls out the beats and comes around to firmly push your limbs into position. This, I realized, was exercise I could get behind.

This year I took my first ballet class since I quit at 15. The studio smelled like wood and damp tights. And the teacher kept telling the new girls in the class that we had to focus on turning our inner thighs out as far as they would go. There was no talk about the mindset we had to get into, or what the various positions meant. The goal was learning the fundamentals, getting sharper and cleaner and faster, so we could leave the barre and perform something beautiful, in our case, a simple sequence of grand jetes across the room.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user quinn.anya.

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