Pointe shoes not required

by Charman Driver

photograph by Scott Sharpe

If every cloud has a silver lining, then it’s fair to say that former Carolina Ballet dancer Margot Martin has gone a step further, striking gold with her innovative form of exercise known as the ballet burn.

Though the class is built around fundamentals of ballet technique, no ballet experience is necessary, and no pointe shoes are required. The components are taught with such positive support that you will forget how much of a ballerina you are not!

Participants wear athletic shoes and use individual weighted PVC pipes instead of a traditional ballet barre, but what stands out distinctly is the music. From OutKast to Pat Benatar; Usher to the Rolling Stones; Rusted Root to James Brown, the music will have you shaking your booty and lip-synching to popular tracks that bring back moments of nostalgia and lots of smiles. She’ll even take song requests and choreograph them into class. (Say it with me, “Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan…”)

My class begins with a personal favorite new wave track: Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough. We start in second position (feet turned out a little wider than hip distance apart, and arms wide and at chest level) and Martin briefly demonstrates the moves we are to follow – and then we’re off! The Ballet Burn is 60 minutes of intensity.

You’ve got to keep up mentally and physically with the slow and fast tempo of repetitive movements while an actual “burn” finds its way through your legs, arms, glutes, and core. Don’t worry, though – it’s all good. The combination of intense cardio, core work and flexibility will make you strong and lean, improve your posture, and prevent injury in class and in everyday life.

The hour has come and gone so fast, I check the clock on the wall to make sure it’s true. Martin ends the class with lots of stretching and use of the foam roller, the kind often used by physical therapists. It feels amazing to roll on it after such intense bodywork.

Martin created Ballet Burn while rehabbing from knee surgery after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in rehearsal for Swan Lake in 2009. When she reinjured the knee in rehab and needed another surgery, she found herself spending countless hours in physical therapy and extra time in the gym. She began to combine ballet movements with the ideas her physical therapists suggested and found herself making something new in the process.

Initially, this new regime was meant to allow her to return to the stage, which she did in 2010. But friends in the fitness industry encouraged her to do something more with the workout she’d created. The Ballet Burn was born.

There are other ballet-based workouts – among them Pure Barre in Raleigh, Cary, and Chapel Hill, and the martial arts-ballet DVD workout Ballerobica – but Martin was convinced she had something different to offer. She also knew it would take a great deal of work to make it a commercial reality.

Martin, 32, is not one to shy away from hard work. She began her formal training at 8, was a founding member of Raleigh’s own Carolina Ballet at 17, and danced as a soloist with the company for 13 seasons before retiring in 2011. She also taught beginner to advanced ballet here and abroad for 10 years and has been a certified yoga instructor since 2005. Hard work is in her DNA.

So is poise, earned from years of performing all over the world. She’s also friendly, supportive, playful, and inspiring. She has dealt with what she calls “the critical world of ballet and wants to create a different kind of atmosphere in her own class, one in which her clients feel good about their bodies “from the inside out,” and find happiness “through creative movement, total body awareness, and positive intentions.”

You sense it’s true. Classes are packed with enthusiastic followers  – about 60 of them every week – who come back for more “burn,” and I know it’s as much about her as it is about an improved derriere.  

For more information on class schedules and locations, go to Theballetburn.com. Twelve classes cost $120, six are $72, and the drop-in rate is $15.