Review of The Bar Method Accelerated Workout

On a business trip, with a hotel room all to myself, I’m looking to do a little bit of exercise to make up for the dance classes I’m missing, and I pull out the The Bar Method Accelerated Workout. The desk chair does for a barre, and I pull out two way-too-cold beer bottles from the mini fridge to use as light weights. You do what you can.

Like The Bar Method: Change Your Body (previously reviewed), the Accelerated Workoutcarefully covers all the major areas of your body. Burr Leonard begins with arm work, using both light weights and the body for resistance. The triceps exercises are particularly effective, but it’s hard to judge since those bottles really were a little too light for me.
She then moves on to some challenging thigh work, the kind of plié and relevé series that I so love from my ballet class. I feel these, oh do I ever feel these. The glute work is not as hard for me. However, to be fair, I think maintaining proper form here is really key, and I have a hard time doing so. These seem like the kinds of tiny moves that are super-effective when done right, and completely pointless when performed incorrectly.
The abdominal exercises are nice, pilates-type moves. They are challenging, but not insane – that is, despite the fact that I still can’t do a proper roll-up, I can keep up with most of these. However, the next section, involving “back dancing” – that is, small movements performed with the back rolled up from the ground, kind of like bellydancing while lying down – is wildly intense. I have experienced few techniques as good for hitting the inner thighs. These are challenging, fun, and painful in a good way.
The workout closes with some good stretches, though they could be held longer.
Back dancing may look like lying down — it is not.

My take on the video? I love, love, love how careful Burr Leonard is about form. She gives pointers constantly, repeatedly reminds you to tuck your pelvis, engage your abs, and so on. This is precisely the kind of thing you need when you are working out without a live instructor. Her demeanor is matter-of-fact and friendly, which is also what I prefer in a video teacher. (Overly peppy is not my thing.) And there is another instructor you can follow throughout for modifications, which is also key to staying safe.

While I didn’t quite feel all the exercises as much as I might have liked to, and in fact, right after the workout I didn’t have any sore muscles, doing the video did energize me right away and made me feel taller and looser. (I actually followed it up with a quick swim in the hotel pool – might as well take advantage!) And as has happened before with the BarMethod, I certainly did feel the effects on the second and third day after doing the workout. This is especially true for all sorts of little muscles in my back and arms that I usually don’t exercise.

At one hour, the video is easy to fit into a busy schedule, and is definitely high on my list to do again. It’s the perfect workout for those days when you have a set amount of time, need to be energized rather than crushed, and want to cover all the major muscle groups of your body.

Full disclosure: I have received a review copy of a different Bar Method DVD (stay tuned!), but I bought this one myself.

Two Ahmeds, two Saids

A quick note about a fun and filled Saturday. It began with my hightailing it up to Prenzlauer Berg to attend two workshops by Ahmed Said. Now, I was a bit early, so I treated myself to a really convincing cappuccino and a good-enough croissant before going in search of the dance studio at the Kulturbrauerei.

I finally made it, and was in for more than five hours of energetic dance. The first workshop was on Egyptian folkloric dances, namely Nubian and Debke. I had no experience with either. I adoooored the playfulness of Nubian, the groovyness of it, to say nothing of the music. Debke was more challenging. By that point, I was really feeling the impact in my feet and knees, and it made it hard to keep up. I think I could learn to like it if I got the basic step down, but for now I’m happy to leave it to the menfolk.

The second workshop was devoted to a shaabi choreography. It seems like every dancer who’s coming through Berlin these days is offering a shaabi choreo. And this is a Good Thing. I love the peppiness of the shaabi music I’ve heard so far, for starters. And Ahmed mixed up bellydance steps with some moves that were practically out of the disco, which I especially loved because it reminds me that this dance is, ultimately, about joy in movement and music. You can’t take yourself that seriously when you’re pretending to stab yourself out of heartache.

I had just enough time to jump on the subway — no doubt grossing out my fellow passengers — go home and take a shower before it came time to… go to the ballet! At that point I couldn’t even walk anymore, so hubby and I got a taxi to see La Péri at the Staatsballet Berlin. In a way, it was incredibly fitting. A nineteenth-century “hijinks in the harem” ballet newly choreographed by Vladimir Malakhov, it was the most unapologetically orientalist production of, well, anything I’ve ever seen. In it, Achmed — the second Ahmed of the day — is tired of all the available ladies and romantically dreams of the pure and eternal love of a supernatural Peri.

The second Said of the day had to be Edward Said, who was no doubt doing pirouettes in his grave. I mean, at one point Achmed is in prison, and while the previous backdrops had suggested his harem was in Istanbul, the prison has giant, Pergammon-style Mesopotamian wall carvings.

The production was gorgeous — although one of the poor little corps Peris did accidentally run into Achmed at one point — and the costuming was enough to make any bellydancer swoon. (Nourmahal, Achmed’s former favourite, had on a tribal kind of look — I had to wonder if that was on purpose.) But it also made me realise that if it hadn’t been for Balanchine, I would never have fallen in love with ballet. It’s the modern take on the dance that draws me, as well as the athleticism.

Pining for Pina

If you’re anywhere near a movie theatre that’s playing Pina right now, open a different browser window, buy a ticket, and go to see it immediately. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just head straight to the cinema. Trust me.

Some of the theatres in my city are playing it, both in 2D and 3D, and I’ve been recommending the movie like mad to anyone who will listen. I saw it twice this past summer in 3D while I was in Germany, and will probably see it again, in however many dimensions I can, before it leaves the cinemas again. “Pina” is probably one of the most exquisite things I’ve seen on a movie screen. If you love dance, if you love art or music, heck, even if you just like seeing beautiful things or fascinating people, you will love it.

“Pina” was originally planned as a documentary. Pina Bausch, one of the leading choreographers of modern German dance, was working with director Wim Wenders when, a few days before beginning the shoot, she died suddenly of cancer. Wenders wound up making the piece anyway, but it became an homage to Bausch herself. Pieces from her dance works are interlaced with her dancers’ recollections of working with her,of  learning their craft from a charismatic, understated, and powerful woman.

Why see it? The dancing is passionate, stunning, sometimes joyful, often troubling. The dancers themselves are equally fascinating; we are used to seeing the sameness of Hollywood faces on the big screen, but here are artists who can control every muscle and the intention behind it, and whose faces show the individual lines of long experience. The discussions of dance are incredibly subtle, and would be of interest to any practitioner. For example, in archival footage, Bausch describes performing a choreography that demanded she keep her eyes closed throughout, but feeling that this repetition was somehow different, not right — then realising that it made a difference to the feeling of the dance whether she looked up or down behind her shut eyelids. See it also because the cinematography beautifies Wuppertal, an industrial German city made enchanted by the dancing filmed in its parks, public transit, and mines.

Really — just go see it. Then come back and tell me what you thought.

Review of Suzanne Bowen’s Long and Lean Prenatal Workout

Suzanne Bowen’s Long and Lean Prenatal Workout is one gorgeous pilates-based workout. Actually, to tell you the truth, it doesn’t feel like a prenatal workout at all. Suzanne herself is not visibly pregnant in the video, and there’s almost no “baby” talk. She does tell you to take rests and get water more frequently than you’d hear in a normal pilates workout (rather than the “keep going, you can do this!” typical of exercise mavens). And those of us who have watched lots of prenatal workout intros can tell that the workout does not involve any exercises dangerous for pregnant women — not much bouncing, and nothing done on the back. But given all that, this is the first prenatal workout I’ve done during which I repeatedly forgot I was pregnant — and at seven months, that’s a feat.

The workout is divided into three main sections:
Standing – 20 minutes
Mat – 20 minutes
Stretching – 10 minutes

There is also a 10-minute postnatal abs section taught by Leah Sarago that I haven’t, for obvious reasons, looked at or tried yet.

What’s the scoop? The standing segment was ballet-inspired but eminently doable. There are light squats and lunges, but all done so precisely that even my usually-weak knees didn’t protest for a moment. (And have been fine all day afterwards.) Most of the leg series are accompanied by arm movements that will really warm you up. This section felt really beautiful, and gave me a feeling of lightness I haven’t had in a while.

The mat work segment was, frankly, challenging. I don’t have an enormous amount of upper-body strength anyway, and found I simply had to take breaks here and there. And there was an oblique exercise that I could have done easily before pregnancy, but at seven months was just not going to happen anymore! But, to my surprise, the abdominal exercises were much easier to accomplish without strain than in other prenatal videos.

Also excellent was the stretching segment. While it helped to be warm for this, I would recommend it as a stand-alone program to anyone who is pregnant or has back pain. The leg, hip, and back stretches were extremely effective and satisfying, even though Suzanne warns you not to push yourself too hard or too far. I could feel my prenatal sciatica slipping into nothingness…

The workout closes with the invitation to relax while sitting on or your side, while music plays for a while. I wound up not finding this music all that relaxing, but when I turned off the video I realised I was surprisingly refreshed given the practice. The Long and Lean Prenatal Workout is a program I expect I’ll be using even when pregnancy is only a memory!

A method to the barness – The Bar Method: Change Your Body

During one of my little forays to Half Price Books, I noticed two of the Bar Method DVDs. They were priced a little higher than their other workout DVDs, so I let them pass, but once I got home and saw how well-reviewed, pricey (and nearly unavailable on Amazon) they are, I went right back and snapped them up.

I’m a sucker for these ballet-inspired, little-tiny-movement workouts. I think it’s because I’m inherently lazy, so I don’t like to jump around a lot, but also because I like workouts that make me concentrate on what my body is doing. I love how thoughtful yoga is for the same reason. So I began by trying what seemed to be the easier program, The Bar Method: Change Your Body!.

What’s interesting about this system is that it uses light weights, which means there’s a bit more focus on arm work than in my beloved Callanetics. Almost every movement is followed by an appropriate stretch. The glutes and legs are worked in a variety of ways. And there are truly challenging abdominal exercises. Now, these use very few crunches, but the focus is on pelvic tilts. My guess — and I hope I’m not getting the anatomy wrong — is that they’re working the Psoas muscle, which is generally quite hard to reach. This isn’t discussed on the video per se, but the effect of working the Psoas muscle is, I’ve heard, to pull in the abdominals — which you can’t get just by doing crunches. I haven’t seen this kind of focus on the Psoas in any other workout video so far.

By the time the workout was done, I didn’t really feel I had done anything. Sure, the individual exercises had been challenging, but none were exhausting. Still, I thought I’d wait a day or two to see how I felt the next day, if the exercises had really worked my muscles.

The next day: oh lord. And the day after that — I could feel leg, butt, hip, and arm muscles still pleasantly hurting. Now that I know its effects, I can’t wait to do it again!

Quickie Review of Balletone – Center Moves

I picked up Balletone – Center Moves a few days ago at Half Price Books, and was disappointed when I got home to find it had been poorly reviewed on Amazon. Too fast, they said, too many unexplained ballet movements.

Well, since I have no background in ballet, and I am the *worst* at moving quickly or anything like, well, center moves, I worried. But I did the video yesterday anyway, and was delighted to find it a really graceful, dancey cardio workout, which had me gleefully moving and stretching for a sweaty forty minutes.

Balletone Center Moves standing ballet exercise

Actually, there are very few ballet terms used in this video, and those that are are explained. The workout is basically composed of a series of movements which are gradually added on and rehearsed, until by the end you find yourself doing an entire little routine. In that sense, it can be a bit boring, since you do the same movements many, many times over. However, that’s also a chance to learn the movements better, and to get to the point (if not on the first viewing, then on the second) where you don’t have to think about them anymore.

Balletone – Center Moves also incorporates little strength moves (especially leg lifts) and side stretches into the routine. This does mean that you don’t have non-stop movement, but you do get to work on balance, which is also part of being fit.

In short, I liked it, I can see myself doing this video again with pleasure, and I think it’s a great companion to the more static ballet-based workout programs.

Review: Peter Martins, New York City Ballet Workout

I rented this video around the same time that I started a “Ballet Body” class at my local gym. Also, I had been doing Callanetics, which is ballet-inspired. So I was really in the mood for something just like the New York City Ballet Workout.

Other reviewers on Amazon have mentioned the fact that the ballet terms are not explained (annoying, but you can deal with it), or that the narrator often does not give proper cues (actually very annoying, since he sometimes gives them, but at the wrong time, making it confusing even if you know what to do). Here are my problems with it:

1. I found the warmup horribly insufficient. That was not a warmup. That was barely a stretch.

2. The long and unskippable pauses between sections make sure that any warmup will be useless.

3. The beautiful, artsy dark background and shots make it really difficult sometimes to see what the dancers are doing. How about some bright lighting, like the kind they have in their actual studios?

4. There really aren’t enough repetitions of each move. Not even the crunches. I’m sorry, sixteen crunches is not going to do anything for anyone’s abs. I really wish they hadn’t tried to fit in so many different moves and combinations, and had just chosen a few good ones and made the most of them — and by that I mean explaining proper technique, showing modifications, and doing them enough times to get the muscles to work a little.

I guess that any exercise is better than no exercise at all, but I have a hard time imagining seeing any physical improvement from this DVD. My class at the gym has more repetitions and more of an aerobic component, which allows for more of a workout. Meanwhile, Callanetics (or yoga) is much better at building flexibility and muscle tone. I think the New York City Ballet Workout would be lovely for someone who wanted to see different ballet moves, and I loved the extras, but there are better dance-inspired workout videos.

Ballet for Oriental Dance with Autumn Ward

I took part in Autumn Ward’s “Ballet Technique for Oriental Dance” workshop yesterday at Salsa International. I have pain in the weirdest muscles today (my pecs hurt, if you can believe it!) and places in my hip, and my credit card also hurts because of the Sharifwear sale they were having…. but all in all, it was great.

You obviously can’t learn much ballet in two hours, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. I thought this class might be something like an introductory ballet class, but it was nothing of the kind. Instead, it was much more interesting: Autumn discussed some aspects of ballet that have been incorporated into oriental dance, and how they might vary from the ballet forms. This also included some descriptions of ballet technique — she made us do some very interesting exercises for getting a proper pointed foot, for example.

Autumn talked about arm positions in ballet and how we vary them for oriental dance, and made us do a partner exercise where we had to use our arms, in position, to resist against our partner. (Hence the painful pecs and back muscles today, which I take as a good sign!) We worked on that hipdrop-kick movement that gets used so much in bellydance, and on getting a graceful leg extension.

And, we spent a lot of time on turns. I’m probably the most turn-challenged person on the face of the planet, but I loved her instruction. First of all, she talked about how ballet drives spins and turns from the legs, while oriental dance drives them with the arms or the hips. She went over arm technique, and right away I realised how much I had been missing by not using my arms. And although she mentioned spotting, she didn’t start with it. My trouble is that spotting, if anything, makes me more dizzy and confused, and makes me forget about what my body is supposed to do. I found I did alright when I just focused on my body — my footwork, and powering the turns with my arms — but the moment I tried to introduce spotting I lost it all.

We also covered arabesques, spinning inward and outward, and when each might be used. All in all, it was a wonderfully useful, tight class. I’m not a brilliant spinner now, but one can’t be after two hours. Stil, I now have a much better idea of what to do, and strangely enough, I have this desire to run around a room spinning — I can see how it could get addictive!