I've gone back and forth about this review for the last couple of weeks. On the one hand, I had planned to review Ballet Beautiful by itself, but when it came to sitting down and writing the review I really didn't have much to say. Ultimately, I realized that my review would read better in a compare/contrast form, so I've decided to combine several books about ballet workouts, in what I would consider an ascending order. (This latter comment reflects an entirely subjective position, of course.)
website and on other sites, I didn't have the most favorable impression, but I figured it didn't hurt to give it a try. After all, this workout was getting glowing reviews everywhere, so I had one of those passing moments of wondering if I was missing out on a trend and pooh-poohing something really good.
Had I taken a closer look, I would have realized something that didn't occur to me until after I bought the book and tried the workout. All of these reviews kept saying that this workout will give you the body of a ballet dancer -- after all, the creator of the Ballet Beautiful workout is a form NYCB dancer. But here's the thing: the people who keep saying you get the body of a ballet dancer from the workout aren't actually ballet dancers (with the exception of the author/creator, and what else is she going to say?). In fact, I didn't find much in the way of reviews from ballet dancers, just celebrities who think they're getting a "ballet body." There's nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, and these celebrities (and others) are genuinely satisfied with the results. But it's a little disingenuous to claim that this workout will make you look like a ballet dancer, particularly when the workout is comprised of a lot of pulses on the floor -- pelvic pulses, leg pulses, etc. Not to mention the arm flapping, which is supposed to give you "swan arms." I have no doubt that, done repeatedly for several weeks of more, this workout will lengthen and strengthen. But something needs to be pointed out here:
If you want the body of a ballet dancer, you need to take a ballet class or at least take a class that incorporates real ballet steps.
All of those pulses and arm flaps are just watered-down versions of what ballet dancers do in a class. (And by the way, those "ballet arms" come more from holding the arm a la seconde at the barre and doing full port de bras, instead of flapping them.) You think you can't handle a ballet class? Just give it a try. You can almost always find a studio that has "adult beginner" classes, and they're usually very accessible. Let me follow up my gripes here with an important disclaimer. I'm not saying this workout stinks. Far from it. I think there are real benefits from it. But, for the life of me, I didn't get "ballet" from it at all. Pilates, maybe. But there really wasn't much true ballet in there. (Hence my confusion about how you can get a "ballet body" from this.)
As an example, here's the trailer for the book, with some examples of the primary workout:
The only ballet I see in here is the temps lie a la seconde with the goofy (and, honestly, dreadful) arm flaps at 0.52. I couldn't even make myself do this; she's a former professional dancer, and she still looks like a maniacal chicken. Imagine how everyone else looks.
And here's the Royal Ballet in class:
I don't mind "ballet-inspired" workouts, but there's just not enough ballet in Ballet Beautiful to justify all the fuss about it. And forget the nonsense that was Black Swan. Natalie Portman didn't look like a ballerina, and frankly she couldn't dance worth peanuts, despite what those marketing the film tried to claim.
I'd also like to point out that Bowers claims the book is useful as a "lifestyle," but ultimately her lifestyle tips look like she scoured PopSugar: eat lots of small meals (because, you know, that works for every body type), eat low-fat Greek yogurt (hey, sponsored by Chobani, perhaps?), eat whole grains, eat lots of fish, etc. Kind of run-of-the-mill and far too generic. If you buy the book, I'd recommend skipping the "lifestyle" section altogether. (For my part, I'm increasingly tired of self-appointed nutritional gurus who ignore research about the importance of soaking whole grains and the value of full-fat dairy products. All I see in Ballet Beautiful is a tendency toward cheap, trendy tips that appeal more to the Hollywood set than to actual health research. I mean, have you seen the ingredient list in fat-free salad dressing? That's more likely to hurt you than a small helping of fat.)
Rant over. Moving on. And for the record, I do like Greek yogurt. But Bulgarian also works, in a pinch.
New York City Ballet Workout
The structure of the workout is as follows: warm-up, stretch, abdominals (optional, as you'll get a lot of this in the later workout), floor barre (kind of like Ballet Beautiful, but frankly more useful), ballet center, and legs. There are more ballet steps in here, but they're presented in an accessible way. Additionally, the sections on ballet center and legs really do reflect a ballet workout and will seriously challenge your balance. Additionally, the demonstrations indicate how this workout is effective for both men and women, so it's a little more universal in appeal.
Some videos, since everything's available on YouTube:
I will make one slightly negative comment here. I've used the videos before. (I owned them at one point and then loaned them out without receiving them back. No great loss.) Honestly, I like the book more. I don't know what it is about the videos, but they didn't motivate me at all. They might do so for someone else, so if you're a video-visual type check them out.
Otherwise, this is a great workout, even if you only incorporate elements of it (i.e., stretch or legs) into your daily routine.
Other Ballet Workouts
These are books for those with a little (or more) experience:
Classical Ballet Combinations (very nice for basic classes; not too intense, if you know the terms and dont' feel like generating combinations)
100 Lessons in Classical Ballet (from the Vaganova Academy in Saint Petersburg)
Classes in Classical Ballet (from the Bolshoi School in Moscow)
The two above are pretty serious, but extremely useful for solid training and an understanding of the incremental system in each school.
Another option is to check YouTube, as former Bolshoi dancer Dmitri Roudnev has some great video tips available. For an example, see here. I took classes with him ages ago, and they were extremely useful. (Russian teachers are intense, but their teaching sticks with you. I also took a class with Galina Mezentseva; this was even more intense, but no less lacking in educational value. For what it's worth, I took a class with former NYCB dancer and Balanchine trainee Suki Schorer and got diddly-squat from it. But my opinions about American, and Balanchine, style and training aren't appropriate for this particular post. Ultimately, this is a stylistic preference, but if you have the option choose for Russian over American. In my not-so-humble opinion.)
My point is, there's a lot out there for those interested in a ballet-based workout, and there are certainly different levels of actual ballet in each. I'd put Ballet Beautiful at the bottom of my list, but I hasten to say that I was hoping for more real ballet in the workout. If you're satisfied with minimal, this isn't a bad choice. If you want more, look beyond it.