Your Body: Working Out with Abigail Mentzer
Mentzer in Afternoon of a Faun, with Pennsylvania Ballet’s Jermel Johnson. Photo by Candice Lauren, Courtesy Mentzer.
After leaving her soloist position at Pennsylvania Ballet to join the Phantom of the Opera national tour, Abigail Mentzer had to adapt to the ever-changing routine of life on the road. In addition to swimming three to five times a week, she’s now become a Ballet Beautiful devotee. The dance-specific exercises help her stay in prime ballet shape, even without a daily company class.
Mentzer discovered Ballet Beautiful last year while working to build strength after hip surgery for a labral tear. The ballet-based strength-training system created by former New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers was similar to the physical therapy that Mentzer was doing for her hip, so she studied to become a certified trainer. “When I finally went back to ballet class, it felt like I had never left,” she says.
A Ballet Beautiful class is based around mat strengthening exercises that target key dance muscles. There are sitting abdominal exercises, leg lifts for inner and outer thigh muscles and lots of bridges to bring the muscles to—and past—fatigue. Classes also include a Swan Lake–style port de bras series and some standing cardio sequences such as “Sky Line,” a step from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes.
Life on the Road
Without a regular company class, Mentzer finds her unpredictable schedule to be one of the biggest challenges on the road. To maintain some semblance of a daily routine, she tries to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. She also gives herself a Ballet Beautiful class daily, and often uses a combination of Ballet Beautiful and Pilates exercises to warm up for shows.
However, Mentzer’s found that while exercising in a corner of the theater by herself, it takes extra motivation to push herself as hard as she would in class. “I have to constantly give myself little checks: Am I aligned? Are my shoulders tensed?” she says. “It’s a constant battle, but it’s not just for that night. You never know how long you’re gonna be on the show, and you have to stay in shape for whatever is next in life.”
The Ballet Beautiful Bridge
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet in demi-pointe and legs pressed together.
2. Engage your lower abs and press your hips up.
3. Lower your hips to about an inch off the floor, then lift up again for 5 sets of 8.
4. Without pausing, pulse your hips at the top for 5 sets of 8.
5. Then hold your hips at the top for 16 counts.
6. Recover for a minute, then stretch your hamstrings and glutes.
7. Repeat steps 2–6 in additional positions, which can include feet apart, knees apart, both apart or with one leg in front développé.
Photo courtesy Ballet Beautiful.