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Ballet isn't all tutus and tiaras. In fact, the leading men of ballet are expected to do challenging lifts onstage, lifting their partners high into the air -- sometimes virtually bench pressing their female dance partners. Pulling off ballet lifts ranging from the вЂњfish diveвЂќ to lifts performed one-handed are not only awe-inspiring, they require strength and preparation.
вЂњA lot of Twyla Tharp choreography can be lift-centric,вЂќ says Michael Sean Breeden, professional ballet dancer and member of the corps de ballet at Miami City Ballet. вЂњI always do a few pushups to get blood flowing before a show and then go over trouble spots with my partner. As usual, repetition in rehearsal is key to getting these lifts down before the show.вЂќ
Breeden recommends simple pushups to build the upper-body strength needed to lift female dancers. Regular pushups as well as triceps pushups will help keep anyone's upper body in shape, he says. Male ballet dancers begin with regular pushup exercises as young as age 8, according to "DanceTeacher" magazine. To perform a basic triceps pushup, make sure your hands are no wider than shoulder width in the pushup position. As you bend your arms, your elbows should graze your ribs. You can also perform the triceps pushup with your hands in a diamond position.
Hitting the gym is not unheard of for male ballet dancers, and the biceps curl is another basic exercise to build upper-body strength. To perform the basic biceps curl with moderate dumbbell weights, stand with good posture and with your elbows slightly at your sides. Holding the weights in your hands with wrists facing up, slowly bend your elbows and lift the weights up to your shoulders while contracting your bicep muscles. Make sure to not swing your arms backward during the exercise.
The pas de deux -- French for "the dance of two" -- sometimes requires male dancers to virtually bench-press their female partners. A good example is the challenging pas de deux in the ballet "Romeo and Juliet." During the famous balcony scene, Romeo is often seated on his knees and lifts the ballerina from the floor, raising her high overhead, then lowering her and raising her again. Basic bench press exercises performed in the gym can help the male ballet dancer build the strength necessary for challenging lifts.
Breeden with Miami City Ballet also recommends plank exercises because they not only target your arms, but also your abs. Building core strength will help male dancers with ballet partnering. To perform the plank, start in the basic pushup position, only rest your forearms on the floor with fists meeting together and pressed against each other. Hold the position for a minute or more. The plank can also be performed as a straight-arm plank, holding in place the basic pushup position. Make sure your hips are tucked underneath you.
Ballet lifts and pas de deux are not just about arm strength for the male ballet dancer. вЂњUtilize your legs as well as arms. If you rely solely on your arms for lifting, you run the risk of pulling from your back to help, which is really dangerous,вЂќ Breeden says. вЂњIf you make sure your legs are strong, too, and know how to coordinate them with your arms in whatever choreography specific lifts you have, you will reduce injuries and enhance effectiveness.вЂќ