The CrossFit Ballet
Professional ballet dancers have beautiful bodies. In the field of classical dance, issues of physical aesthetics are so important that Balanchine’s School of American Ballet has long required that applicants have “well-proportioned” bodies with suitable “anatomical structure”.
So when marketing teams for fitness regimens look for endorsements from ballet stars, it’s typically for stuff like Pilates, Yoga and Barre classes. In recommendations, the spokespeople celebrate opportunities for “sculpting” and “toning”. They disdain weight training with disparaging comments about workouts that “tend to build short, bulky muscles”.
That makes Adam and Lesley Still’s fitness routine intriguing. He’s a professional dancer for Ballet Met. She also a professional ballet dancer who left home at age twelve to train at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. They start their weekday mornings with CrossFit: that’s not just weight training, that’s serious weight training with kettle bells and barbells and olympic lifting.
While he describes himself as not “pencil-thin”, no one would ever call her “bulky”.
The duo’s interest started with a barbell move called the “squat” (weighted knee bends, for the uninitiated). Says Adam Still, “We noticed squatting helped our jumps and it also helped my knee I’d been having some problems with.”
It went from squatting to a free class at Columbus Commons, and from there to a full scale CrossFit gym.
Says Still, “CrossFit points out all the areas you’re weak in, improving strength and stamina at the same time. Ballet is very similar to CrossFit because it’s shorter bursts of all out effort at a high intensity.”
Their CrossFit coach, Mitch Potterf, says training professional ballet dancers has been interesting, “They have an exceptional degree of flexibility, body awareness and control. If something isn’t right, I can just tell them to ‘move this’ or ‘rotate that’ — and they can just do it. It’s like coaching a robot.”
Not just interesting, it’s also been entertaining for the coach, “It is really cool to see how they solve physical tasks: when they are tired or don’t know how to do something, they divert to ballet positions. Sometimes this is great, and other times they just need adjusted.”
While the applications of CrossFit to ballet may be many, and the similarities can be great, Still points out one critical difference: “It’s great to have the space and methodology of CrossFit to improve your stamina, without having to have a smile on your face like you have to while dancing.”
All photos for this article are courtesy of athlete photographer, Kimberly Potterf.