Barre Workouts

These Vintage New York City Ballet Workouts Remind Me of the City I Miss

Tamim Alnuweiri

Photo: Getty/Stanislaw Pytel
Even in the before times, the New York City Ballet was something rare and coveted. I saw it in person once a year with my family in the dead of winter. We’d walk up a crowded Fifth Avenue while window-shopping with the masses, and occasionally, I’d take a moment to appreciate how everyone managed to shed any feigned jadedness to be in awe of the spectacle.

Continuing up Fifth, my family would slow down for me as we reached the Plaza. I’d walk briskly (okay sometimes briskly enough that there was a hop in there) to see the framed Eloise portrait in the lobby. I’d stop off and watch the society types peel off their layers in the Palm Court for tea before realizing I’d been left behind by my family.

Eventually, when we found each other, we’d continue, elbowing our way past the crowds that are, for some reason, always gathered at the mouth of Central Park—taking photos and causing obstructions (truth be told, I miss them too).

We’d walk past the carousel,  and we’d spend a few minutes staring at it while my feet registered the immense pain they were in from the heels I wear once a year for this exact occasion. We’d finally cut west through the rest of Central Park to arrive at our final destination: Lincoln Center. My siblings and I would rest on the lip of the fountain, and my father trying to coax us to smile for photos since we were all dressed up in our Sunday Best.

As people in the courtyard began checking their watches, we headed into the hall for the grand event, the ballet. In my seat with my $9 Diet Coke in hand, I would crank my neck and stare at the intricate and opulent ceiling, until the room fell silent, the lights dimmed, and the orchestra quietly began ramping up to take us through the spectacle.

But that time, those days suddenly feel far off. My mother has since passed. I haven’t seen my family in a year. And we have been asked to nap in a City That Never Sleeps

But that time, those days suddenly feel far off. My mother has since passed. I haven’t seen my family in a year. And we have been asked to nap in a City That Never Sleeps. In this time, the closest I have gotten to the feeling of the day at the ballet is these workout videos from the New York City Ballet.

I can’t place the exact year this workout was released but a light Google suggests somewhere before/around 2003—its initial release is on VHS. This puts the release at the height of the Sex and The City fervor… which is the only explanation I have for Sarah Jessica Parker’s foreword at the beginning of the workout.

As bizarre as her appearance is, watching this in the cold isolation in my apartment, she’s right when she says, “It will give you a special feeling of grace and wellbeing, something all of us could use.”

The video then gets to the good stuff. Two hours and ten minutes (split into two workouts) of a slightly modified ballerina’s workout. I couldn’t tell you the names of the compositions that glitter in the background of these videos but they are entrancing and hide the sounds of my weighted breath. Four ballerinas—two women, two men—do the exercises as their at-the-time Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins verbally narrates and directs the kinesthetics.

The workout is difficult and my legs burn, and for an hour and a half, I am at Lincoln Center. For an hour and a half, New York City still exists the way it does in my mind.

The video is, regardless of the content, a cinematic marvel. The ballerinas are in a plain large studio free of any distractions. The cinematographer captures the movements so you can emulate, but also takes care to capture the magic of human movement. Careful thought is taken into the frames and zooming in—showing the viewer the beauty of something as simple as an extension of the arm or a curl of the fingertips. It is a moment of reprieve to think that my body too holds this ephemera.

Before starting the workout I slip into a leotard and mesh dance overlay outfit, leg warmers and satin slippers from Ballet Beautiful. Then I move through the workout with belabored breath and sweating in a way that seems… unnatural. The workout is difficult and my legs burn, and for an hour and a half, I am at Lincoln Center. For an hour and a half, New York City still exists the way it does in my mind.

Watch the videos here:

 

And try this cardio barre workout too:

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