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Karen Kay: Ballet is more painful than boxing

PUBLISHED: 10:34 04 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:34 04 July 2017

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Karen's on a mission to get fighting fit and is now in awe of those definitely not-so-fragile flowers who grace the dance stage

My legs are burning in post-exercise agony. Muscles I forgot existed have been woken after years of inertia, and those used daily are quivering in pain, screaming at me after I demanded so much more of them than they’ve coped with in decades.

I’ve just returned from a Barre Sculpt class, run by Bucks-born Harriet Moran Smith, a former professional dancer who has devised an exercise regime for non-dancers. Her mother was also a dancer and her father’s in the music industry, so performing is in Harriet’s genes. Sadly, I can barely get into my jeans as I slide towards the big 5-0. Something had to change.

Harriet’s classes launched this year, and are proving so popular she has scheduled them at venues across south Bucks. She’s a perky blonde, with lissom limbs, a slender silhouette and a toned torso. She looks strong and healthy, not skinny, and her physique is the constant motivation when you are suffering the torture of holding your weary body in a plié position for what seems like a lifetime.

Based on the precise movements of ballet dancers practising at the barre, perfecting technique with rigour and discipline and honing their lithe limbs in the process, Barre Sculpt has me hooked. Who knew that such small movements could cause such pain and stimulate so much sweat? (excuse me, I know that’s not ladylike, but truly, I’ve earned the right to say I was sweating. It was TOUGH).

Those beautiful, balletic creatures leaping gracefully across the stage at the Royal Opera House make it look so darned easy, but IT IS NOT. Every single one of them deserves an Academy Award for their performance, smiling serenely as they pirouette en pointe, like it’s as simple as strolling round the supermarket.

Believe me, when you try it, they make the toughest of tough guys look like wimps. I’ve tried boxing. It’s hard. But ballet is harder. And when your body has led a largely sedentary life for the best part of 30 years, it feels like you’re attempting to climb Everest, every time. There is nothing delicate or dainty about those women (and men): they are powerful machines dressed up to look graceful.

As a teenager, my body was strong, supple and brimming with stamina. Now, 30 years down the line, much of that spent sat on my bottom, fingers tapping away busily at an Apple keyboard, I am finally settling into a rhythm of physical activity. It is, quite frankly, a miracle.

I walk most days in the local fields, with friends (and maybe one of their dogs) or alone. We try to keep up a brisk pace, and to head out even when the clouds are dark and the temperature isn’t inviting. Slowly, we are all improving our fitness levels, finding hills a little easier and nattering away with a little less stress on our respiratory systems. We’re aiming to cover longer distances over the summer months and – buoyed by our improved stamina – keep it up through the autumn and winter.

I’m not one for regrets, living by the mantra that you “shouldn’t look back, that’s not the direction you’re moving in”. But in the last few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that if I had my time again, I would look after myself better.

It’s not too late to change, though. I’ve seen friends transform themselves in mid and later life, thanks to exercise regimes, ambitious goals and dietary changes. Often, it’s as a result of a health scare. But what we’ve all learned is that the only way you can truly make a lasting transformation is by finding things you enjoy, so the changes become long-term. 


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