Dance to get strong

Follow in the footsteps of Billy Elliot – and the All Blacks rugby stars – in getting all ballet

If there’s a sporting side from the last decade whose practices and theories you’d want to copy, the All Blacks would be pretty high on that list.

Twice Rugby World Cup winners in 2011 and 2015, forwards coach Mike Cron said in 2017 some of the heaviest players in the game had been using ballet to sharpen up. “A lot of it is how they lift and that correlates to lineouts and kick receipts.”

At around the same time the under-19s of one of English rugby league’s powerhouse sides – Wigan Warriors – were employing similar techniques.

“The first team have taken a massive interest in this and I wouldn’t be surprised if they start incorporating this into their recovery,” said coach Darrell Goulding of the 2017 World Club Challenge winners.

“Burly Elliot” Tweeted Channel 5 News to report the same story, nearly two decades after the iconic film Billy Elliot about a young lad in a northern mining town who defied his Dad and social stereotypes to pursue his dream – ballet.

Nowadays, dance is one of the most open sports.

“Dance is an excellent tool to tackle difficult societal issues, at any time, because it is an international language,” said Dame Darcey Bussell, one of Britain’s greatest ballerinas of all time who judged on Strictly Come Dancing from 2012-19.

“Everybody understands it. In my experience, dance companies have been at the leading edge of diversity and inclusion: it is a meritocracy and directors see the physicality, passion and artistic form of the person, ahead of all else.”

Swan Lake star Max Westwell, who went through the English National Ballet, described some of the many positives to taking up dancing.

“We work on strengthening and lengthening muscles and most people do lots more abdominal and core stability work. If you’re strong in the centre, everything else works from there. And, as a guy, you’ve got to work on your arms, to be able to lift the girl,” he said in 2009 as a teenager.

“Dancers need to be lean rather than stocky. At junior school, I was on every sports team going. I was a bit hyperactive and dance classes tired me out both physically and mentally so I enjoyed it.”

If you like what you see so far, and you’re either thinking of getting into a new exercise/hobby or have kids who are itching to play sport but you’re not quite sure where to start, give dance fitness company (a social enterprise) DDMIX a thought.

Started in 2016 by Dame Darcey and London Olympics closing ceremonies associate director and choreographer Nathan Clarke, Diverse Dance Mix is specifically targeted for schools, aiming to get children moving while keeping enjoyment levels sky high.

Classes are non-competitive and inclusive, help children with co-ordination, memory expansion, and creative confidence, while they celebrate diversity.

“It is really important that dance fitness at school is open to all kids” Dame Darcey stressed.

“I wanted to create something that was enjoyable for every child of every ability. To see the kids change over a term of DDMIX: their confidence grows and their inhibitions disappear,” the 51-year-old mother-of-two said.

Confidence is one thing, resilience is another. And dancers are a hardy bunch, especially throughout such a trying time where many have seen their work and schedules go up in smoke.

“It has been inspirational to me to watch the dedication and determination of professional dancers in lockdown. They have really committed to their art form despite not being in the studio and not knowing when they will perform again,” said Dame Darcey.

“Fortunately, with adversity, creativity thrives… and dancers are very resilient.”

Ballet is about as much of a full-body workout as you can get. Your core will ache, your balance in the most precarious of positions will be tested to the max, and you’ll need upper body and leg strength in spades.

But most of all, says Dame Darcey, get up for it and smile.

“Enthusiasm, water, an attitude to keep trying and take instruction, and more enthusiasm,” were her responses when asked what five essential items budding dancers should take for their first lesson.

And we’ve all tried something for the first time and not immediately taken to it, so add perseverance to that list.

“I hid under the piano for most of the class…don’t follow my example!” said Dame Darcey of her first ever ballet lesson.

And if dancing really isn’t your thing, you can still try DDMIX for fun as it can enhance your balance, core strength and coordination to provide confidence for other sports.

With DDMIX, you can sample movements from the 1960s to boogie like past generations, channel your inner Aladdin and Jasmine to get all Arabian, feel the force and adrenaline pumping as you punch the air like Rocky and many more…

Movement is key to a long, healthy and happy life.