Working out With Dusty Button

The Boston Ballet principal isn’t afraid of the bench press. 

Button, here in José Martinez's Resonance, works her long legs with squats and leg lifts. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet.

While most ballet dancers look to yoga and Pilates to build long, lean muscles, Dusty Button is unafraid of building bulk. The Boston Ballet principal firmly believes her tall, lithe frame requires the “no pain, no gain” approach of more traditional weight training.

Before stepping in the studio, she hits the gym for an hour of strength training six days a week with her husband. The early-morning workout, which her spouse designed, is full of exercises typically performed by men: Button is just as often found bench pressing 45 pounds and performing pull-ups as she is working squats and leg lifts. “A common misconception among dancers is that we don’t need to work out our legs because we do pointework. But it is not the same thing,” Button says. The pair cycles through a series of strength-training exercises that target different muscle groups each day, leaving themselves one day of complete rest. Abdominals are on call daily, though they alternate different areas of the core to allow for recovery.

Button typically sets the cable machine to 40 pounds for this tricep press. Photo courtesy Button.

Her weight-lifting routine is largely built on the concept of tearing the muscle fibers to rebuild them bigger. “With more muscle comes more strength,” she says. “There is a difference between toning, which is achieved by using a lower weight that allows for higher reps, and building, which requires using a higher weight and performing less reps.” While more definition and less fat may be positive side effects, Button’s motivating goal is less cosmetic and more about how it will help her dancing.

“I do nothing but cardio nonstop in my day, so bulky isn’t really a possibility,” she says. “But even if I did become more bulky, I wouldn’t consider it a bad thing because I believe that an artist can only be an artist if they are an individual. Breaking the mold isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” 

Partner Up for Better Results

“My husband and I feed off of each other’s energy,” says Button. “He pushes me toward the goals we set daily. Without someone to share the success with, it would be far less rewarding.”

Extra Fuel=Extra Energy

Button allows herself to fill up with about 1,500 calories per day plus protein shakes, so that she can fuel the burn that keeps her in optimal shape.

Try It: Tricep Press in a Lunge

Lean forward in a lunge, holding on to ropes attached to a cable machine. Position your hands near the base of your neck with your elbows bent.

Pull on the ropes and straighten your arms. Keep your upper arms stable along your ears and hug in your navel as you perform 10 reps.

Switch your legs and repeat.

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