Before last Monday, my most recent experience with ballet involved a tiny yellow tutu and a lot of equally confused four-year-old peers. As a kid I moved on to tap and then to jazz, but didn't get too far before the delicate matter of experiencing my awkward years in spandex before a wall of mirrors turned me off to the genre entirely.
Older, wiser and a tad more comfortable in my own skin, I decided I'd give dance another shot. Karyn's Raw on Halsted, already one of my favorite places to chow on sprouts, attracted my attention with its drop-in adult ballet classes offered twice a week in a low-key fitness room.
I have to admit, I was feeling pretty lofty as I biked to the studio, figuring my regular yoga regimen would give me a base strong enough to launch me into the intermediate level in no time. Enter Jerry, the most charismatic ballet teacher a girl could hope for, who had me grinning even as he put me squarely in my place. "Honey, lift your leg to your nose. You call that lifting? Hold your belly in! Lift higher! Look up! Arm forward! Higher!
My four classmates (including Karyn Calabrese herself) obeyed, a row of grownup ladies flitting across the floor to the sounds of recorded piano music, and I did my best to keep up. In the end, I was totally hooked.
The skinny: Ballet has its origins in royal court performances that date back to the 1500s. While its oldest roots are in Italy, the French get most credit for shaping the dance style: Louis XIV lashed out against what he felt was a decline in dance standards...in other words, he got the kids of the 17th century in line. In the 1800s, ballet was brought down from the aristocratic courts and popularized for mass entertainment. The form you see today is very much preserved from the original.
The getup: You don't need to invest in ballet shoes off the bat; at Karyn's, several of us practiced in socks or our bare feet. Wear comfy clothes like yoga pants or leggings that will stretch with you and show your form in the mirror.
The payoff: It's a fun workout, thanks in no small way to Jerry's energy and sense of humor. Stick with it, and you'll have shapely legs, toned abs and a butt you can bounce quarters off of. And playing around on my tiptoes with my head held high and arms curved out made me feel more graceful even as I plopped on my bike helmet and pedaled home.
Wear and tear: Muscle sprains and tears are common to dancers, but in this beginner environment, you'll likely be safe. Take note, though: Two days after class, my calves were so cripplingly sore that I had to swing myself down the stairs by holding onto both banisters and spent the day shuffling humbly around. Next time, I'll remember to stretch after class.
The commitment: It's all up to you; Karyn's doesn't require you to commit to class packages. But come week after week and the rewards will be clear.
The cost: At $12 for 90 minutes, Karyn's drop-in deal leaves you with enough cash to stop at the yummy raw salad bar on the way out. Hubbard Street's Lou Conte Dance Studio comes close at $13, however, and series discounts bring it down. Check out other options here.
Difficulty level: The class moves quickly, but I found it wasn't too tough to keep up just by keeping my eyes glued to the feet of the student in front of me at the bar. Once we moved out into the middle of the floor and started doing routines, though, it helped to remember it's healthy to laugh at myself. Since the class is small, there's a good bit of personal attention, and if you have a willing attitude, you'll have a great time and learn a lot.
The verdict: I had a blast, and the break from my normal fitness routine (read, yoga, yoga and more yoga) was welcome. The class was challenging and informative, and produced immediate results: I worked my muscles and learned the first five positions. The small group is incredibly supportive, which doubled my eagerness to come back again soon.
Wanna be a ballerina yourself? We vouch for Karyn's classes. Read more here. Classes can sometimes be canceled without a note on the website, so it's wise to give the front desk a call a few hours ahead if you plan to go.