Tears rolled repetitively down my rosy cheeks as my Russian teacher slapped me on my ass and called me fat. ‘Little piggy!’ she explained. I was 17 and 53 kilos. For a normal girl my age I was marginally underweight, malnourished and on the inside, reasonably starving, but in the ballet world I had a ripe old big bottom and a sway back spine that put me in the Kim Kardashian section of the ballet class. I was far from fat, and looking back on it, had a non-existent toshy. Yet her words stuck with me through training, mealtime and basically just every second breath I took.
In controversy to what is desired and deemed beautiful today, I was determined to have the flattest pancake bottom seen to mankind. I was the first one before class in the morning, I put aside 30 minutes before training just to stretch out my flabby ass. Thinking that by stretching alone was going to make my buttocks disappear. I laughed (in ignorance) at fellow dancers as they did the occasional weight training. That was just going to make you bulky ladies, build up ALL the wrong muscles and make you a stiff and inflexible! HA how benighted I was! It wasn’t until nearly 6 years later I finally learnt to love the body I was in. Learning how to treat my body correctly, how to fuel it with the right foods and how to properly exercise outside of the ballet studio. This not only led to me being leaner than I’d ever been, but far stronger. I was finally able to hold an arabesque, be wobble free in centre and fly through grande allegro. Weight training was the wonderful secret I had finally discovered. So why didn’t all dancers know about this? Why wasn’t I taught this in Ballet school?
If only I’d spent two less hours a week stretching and doing basic body weight training instead I would have reaped the extreme benefits.
Weight training to dancers is an extremely scary concept. Majority of us are ignorant to the facts and brainwashed rather young by old school teachers into thinking that weights, gym and anything ‘muscle’ related is the absolute demon devil. Yet on the flip side, so many dancers (especially pre-professionals) do not have the power and strength in their core and legs for the hugely high demanding world of ballet today.
The myth of weight training is the most prevalent misconceptions in the dance world to date. Just like gaining flexibility, it’s not easy to put on muscle; it takes a lot of work! Supplementing weight training once or twice a week (30-40 minutes) is enough to make you stronger and develop sufficient overall muscle strength without bulking up individual muscles. You will however see an improvement in muscle endurance, precision and overall technique.
The real trick to weight training without building muscle is low resistance, high repetition training. Use enough weight so your muscles begin to tire after 12-15 repetitions, but not so much that you can only manage one round. Starting weight training only with your own body weight is the best way to go, slowly building up over time, kilo by kilo. I suggest beginning with 12-15 repetitions, 3-4 rounds. Saying this however you must always keep in mind how different each individual is. What body type you are, metabolism, muscle and bone structure must all be taken into consideration so you can develop a program that ensures the greatest personal gains.
Weight training is not something that should be feared, it should be something that is embraced. After training dancers the proper techniques of weight training and seeing how dancers reap the benefits, I can only stress this enough, it’s time for dancers to put down the stretchy bands and pick up those weights!