Assemblé! This is how ballet dancers stay fit


This week our sports explorers delved into the world of ballet fitness to experience the workout routine of professional ballet dancers.

Pete Doherty and ballet aren’t an obvious pairing. The Babyshambles frontman does not summon images of tutus, tights or plies but, believe it or not, Pete Doherty is entirely responsible for the concept of Ballet’Fit.

As part of their touring show, Babyshambles take two ballerinas to dance to one of the final songs of their set. And it was one of these ballerinas who, while on tour, came up with the concept for Fit’Ballet – a workout concept which is slowly spreading from its hometown of Paris to cities across Europe.

Lucie Peixoto Rodrigues teaches Fit’Ballet from Studio.Sonic in Berlin. Her best friend, Octavie Escure, is the dancer who founded the concept. “She’s one of my best friends from ballet school,” Lucie says. “Octavie created Fit’Ballet about six years ago in Paris. She’d been dancing at Pete Doherty’s gigs for about three years – with Babyshambles, Libertines and his solo albums. She loved it.”

Lucie explains how Fit’Ballet was created after Octavie needed to come up with a fitness routine outside of a ballet studio. “She needed to find exercises to warm up and keep in shape while she was on tour. Of course there was no bar or ballet floor and the performance was on pointed shoes – which is almost impossible to do on stage. She did it though – even with all the musicians and beer on the floor and everything.”

Fit’Ballet is Octavie’s warm-up routine and includes all of the moves you’d find in a classic ballet class, but with added elements of strength and cardio. “When Octavie came back to Paris she started to do classes with friends and more people came – and that’s how Fit’Ballet started,” Lucie says.

If Lucie were an animal she’d be a swan. Everything about her is lengthy and elegant. Her neck is long and her back is straight as a toy soldier’s. Her French accent and big, slow-blinking eyes give her this kind of effortless composure that only a trained ballet dancer can possess. Lucie’s journey into dance began after she attended her first ballet class when she was five. It was just the routine ballet classes that most young girls do, but from that first lesson she was hooked. When her parents came to collect her she told them she wanted to be a ballet teacher when she grew up. “Because I didn’t realise I could be a professional ballet dancer,” she says laughing. 

If Lucie’s a swan, I’m a rhinoceros. It is very clear, from the first steps of the warm up, that I do not possess one iota of the elegance or poise that she does. Our ballet warm-up is challenging mainly because I must keep my back straight through every exercise. I soon discover that plies are very similar to squats and doing dozens of these with a ramrod straight back works muscles I didn’t even know existed. During the warm up I take a look at the other people in the class. The women all have sleek high ponytails and arched eyebrows, just like professional ballet dancers. There posture is flawless like Lucie’s and they can manage dozens of plies with seemingly no effort. As I heave and grunt my way through the warm up, they point and glide. 

Lucie’s playlist throughout the class is awesome. It’s full of indie bangers by Tame Impala and The XX and she pairs each song with a different exercise. After our warm up we work on our legs, lunging to the side in each direction, then Lucie says “Assemblé!” and all the elegant swans in the class lift a leg behind them as if about to take flight. I’m caught off guard and fumble and crash my way through the movement. Lucie smiles and gives me an encouraging nod. Regardless of my plie abilities, the class is extremely fun. Lucie’s energy fills up the room and, even though her choreography is challenging, her sense of humour shines through – she half-smiles when she counts down our movements because she knows how tough it is.

But Lucie’s favourite move, I think, is this: she divides the class in two. One half must plie 16 times, then the other half, and so on down to 8, 4, 2 and 1. It’s fast and fun and difficult and extremely challenging on the legs. Whenever she can, Lucie corrects her pupil’s postures and lengthens our poses so we get the maximum impact of her choreography. 

After our plie dance-off we each grab a mat and Lucie plays Beyoncé’s Flawless. We sit down and every time Beyonce says “Bow down bitches” we bend over a leg. And, even though the ladies around me fold over like origami whereas I can barely touch my toes, it’s a fantastic stretch.

Fit’Ballet is challenging in many ways. Lucie says “it keeps you in shape and it’s a good way to learn the basics of ballet because we use the same steps. Plus you work out with good posture. It’s not just fitness – you’re also working on how it looks.”

For me, the real challenge is keeping a straight back. “If you’ve done ballet before, even when you were small, it will come back at some point,” Lucie says. “At first you might not remember but it will come back. I can see the difference between people who’ve never done ballet and people who did it for just one year when they were a child. But this class is for everybody so that doesn’t matter.”

Lucie has a twinkle in her eye as she guides us through one of the final exercises of the class. We stay seated and stretch one leg out, turn our toes up, lift our leg and pulse. Lucie counts for what seems like forever, and laughs as she says “Okay, release.”

We wind down the class with a long stretch. Lucie can see I could probably stretch deeper so she comes over and leans on my leg. Afterwards Lucie says “I just enjoy the feeling of dancing ballet. It’s difficult but it’s also pleasant. It’s hard to describe. You push yourself in a nice way. It feels good. It’s relaxing and gives you energy somehow.”

The next morning, just before I leave the house, I look in the mirror. Something is different but I can’t figure out what it is. Then when I get into the office my colleague says “Wow! Your posture looks great today!” And I realise that after just one Fit’Ballet class I’m standing up straighter and holding my head up higher. 

Take a look at Fit’Ballet’s website for a full list of the classes on offer.

And if you’d like to try a ballet class, we Urban Sports Club has tons of dance partners across Europe. Have a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.

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