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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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Lindsay may look ballet beautiful, but she's in deep, deep pain.
Lindsay may look ballet beautiful, but she's in deep, deep pain.

Ballet Beautiful

Ballet dancers are masochists.

I know this for a fact after experiencing two weeks straight of Mary Helen Bowers’ "Ballet Beautiful" DVDs. I am sent fitness DVDs to experience and possibly review all the time and this duo of videos was no different, except that masquerading in the guise of "pretty ballerina" filmed in billowy white light and set to a repetitive piano concerto, "Ballet Beautiful" is in reality, the most grueling, punishing, torturous set of calisthenics I’ve ever attempted.

Bowers was a dancer for the New York City Ballet for 10 years, but is perhaps best known for training Natalie Portman for "Black Swan." Portman has always been slim, but her transformation for this film showcases her personal discipline and the fact that Bowers obviously knows what she is doing.

For two weeks, I rotated between the hour-long "Classic Workout" (divided into semi-more tolerable 10-minute segments) and the (what seemed much longer than an) hour long "Blast" made up of 15-minute, teeth-gritting sessions. The first three days I was driven by adrenaline and being obsessed with gazing at the stunningly, exquisitely gorgeous Bowers who seems to be executing each move with the greatest of ease. Her tiny, yet elegantly well-muscled body covered by only the slightest sheath of a leotard inspired me to drive forward through each second of muscle-burning punishment. But, after three days, I dreaded her cheerful voice and endless counting of eight reps for four sets.

Still, I persevered. I made it through 14 days straight – at which time I was promised I would see results. Did I? Other than feeling tighter (or really sore,) I didn’t look any different or drop any pounds. (From my experience, I do believe "feeling different" is "results." I personally think it takes longer than two weeks to experience real results from any exercise program. I like to give at least six weeks for the body to catch up to the physical program being inflicted upon it.) They only recommend using the videos 4 to 6 days a week with at least one full rest day for best results. I did ask the publicist if cardio was recommended or required since this is more of a toning program and they did say yes – so I did 30 - 60 minutes of additional cardio most days.

The bottom line – these are great DVDs if pain is your thing and you have the patience and grit to get through these difficult workouts. A huge plus is that they are non-impact and need no equipment. Just don’t expect to get through every rep of every movement like Bowers does – especially right from the get-go. You will need to build strength in the specific muscles used and mobility in the joints involved over time. If you want to stick with it, but have exercise ADD like me and need additional content to stay motivated, Bowers offers "Ballet Beautiful" online workouts through her website, BalletBeautiful.com. I personally think more variety of content would be necessary to commit to this program long-term.

So, this program hasn’t become my new choice of fitness modality, but it has shed a whole new light on how balls-out tough ballet dancers are. Never should these athletes be regarded as prissy, or skinny. These are warriors on pointe. I am now convinced that not even the slightest twitch they so gracefully display, no point of the toe, no ripple of the arm, no lift into the air is seemingly as easy to execute as they make it look. These are Black Ops trained killers on the dance floor.

They are Terminators on the stage, emotionless to physical pain behind floods of acting talent. They’ve hosed us all. They are not the delicate, lettuce-eating, tutu wearing flowers displayed to the naked eye. No, ballet dancers are some badass motherf**kers.

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