We've learned from watching The Nutcracker and, more recently Black Swan, that dancers have enviable arms, high and tight derrières, lean legs, and regal posture. Several ballet-based workouts -- or empires -- have emerged in the last decade with the premise that the best way to achieve these long muscles is through micro-movements. Moving an inch or two is the key to tiring muscles and producing faster results. Even if you don't live in New York or L.A., many of these fitness programs offer DVDs or online videos so your muscles can shake and burn any time, anywhere. I tested the following seven techniques, and while all will sculpt and tone, no two are exactly alike. Take your pick -- your body will thank you.
Former professional ballerina turned fitness instructor Mary Helen Bowers created these ballet-inspired targeted exercises and stretches to tone and sculpt sleek dancer muscles. Bowers has personally whipped post-pregnancy Victoria Secret angels into runway shape and trained Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan. If you can't visit the chic and calm SoHo studio, participate in a live class online ($35 per class or $280/month), stream videos ($8-10) or watch DVDs ($12.99-$29.99). This low-impact exercise emphasizes serenity and inner beauty; you truly feel like an elegant ballerina. balletbeautiful.com
Disclosure: I attended class courtesy of Ballet Beautiful.
The Bar Method
Founded by a former licenser of the Lotte Berk Method, The Bar Method was founded in 2001 in San Francisco. Today, there are more than 72 exercise studios across the county and three in Canada. Classes, which include light weights, resistance bands, and its share of pliés, focus on low-impact, high-repetition movements. I found this to be the most similar to ballet, and I liked the sunlit SoHo studio. Drew Barrymore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dita Von Teese are fans. $37 per class or $270/month; DVDs $17-20. barmethod.com
Started by Wharton alum Alexandra Perez, who was looking for a workout that combined cardio, weight training and yoga. Voted best hybrid workout of 2012 by New York Magazine, this workout combines barre legwork with resistance band training, boot camp basics like push ups and lunges, a mini trampoline, and free weights. What I liked most about Bari was the combination of toning with high intensity interval cardio; you're having so much fun you forget you're working out. $35 per class or $320 for a 10-class pack. thebaristudio.com
Core Fusion Barre at Exhale
Husband-wife duo Fred DeVito and former ballerina/choreographer Elisabeth Halfpapp were the first instructors to break from the Lotte Berk Method by starting their own studio in 2002. This combination of core work with Pilates, yoga, ballet and dance offers three levels and several variations, like CoreFusion Bootcamp and CoreFusion Sport. There are 20 locations in the U.S. and Turks and Caicos, and I found this to be one of the most challenging. $37 per class or $285 a month; DVDs $14.99-$19.99. exhalespa.com/mind-body-classes/core-fusion/
Co-founded in 2006 by a dance enthusiast who realized the Lotte Berk Method devotees needed a new place to train and a former Lotte Berk Method instructor. This isometric workout uses your own body weight to build strength without bulk and is designed to transform your body in a quick 57 minutes. For those who don't live near a studio (in New York or Beverly Hills), check out a DVD ($24.95) or stream online videos ($5-7). With four class levels, you will stay challenged, and Kelly Ripa, Demi Moore and Norma Kamali are proof is its transformative power. $35 per class or $375 per month. physique57.com
Dancer, choreographer and fitness guru Carrie Rezebek Dorr launched Pure Barre in 2001. This set of isometric movements is an athletic approach to a combination of dance and Pilates. This does not initially feel as difficult as some of the other workouts, but suddenly muscles are burning from more reps. Supermodel Erin Heatherton and Zooey Deschanel are fans. With locations in 30 states, finding a local studio won't difficult, but you can also watch a DVD ($19.95) or podcast ($4.99). $33 per class or $325/month. purebarre.com
Tracy Anderson Method
Tracy Anderson counts Gwenyth Paltrow, Karolina Kurkova, and Jennifer Lopez among her clients, and her eponymous Method has studio locations in New York, the Hamptons, London, and L.A. Studio access includes unlimited dancing classes, semi-private custom training, and sculpting classes using weights or suspension bands, but be prepared to spend several hours a week sculpting and skipping. If you'd rather not pay the $900/month membership fee, watch the DVDs ($25.99 or 90-day program of 4 discs for $89.97);11,690 buttock-toning moves are used in one single DVD! I started this seven months before my wedding, I love to dance, and I couldn't be happier with the results -- though spending 10 hours a week working out anywhere might have produced similar results, and watching what I ate definitely helped. tracyandersonmethod.com
For more by Louise McCready Hart, click here.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.
Follow Louise McCready Hart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lookinglab