From prima ballerina to fitness pioneer

1 / 6
Mary Helen Bowers
We've noticed a new career trajectory for retired ballerinas: fitness pioneer.

Many professional dancers have taken their knowledge of pelvic tucking and over-all toning and used it to create entirely new fitness methods for New Yorkers interested in long, lean muscles.

Most of these ballerinas-turned-fitness-entrepreneurs have discarded strict ballet-style moves (no pirouettes or arabesques).

Instead, you’ll find modern, thigh-quaking exercises at the barre, sweat-inducing stretches on the floor, or sets of strengthening squats with kettlebells.

Who are the serious ballerinas that have traded their tutus for tank tops, and now head up some of the city's best boutique fitness classes? Meet four of them here… —Lisa Elaine Held

Photo: Mary Helen Bowers by Yelena Yemchuk


Kate AlbarelliKate Albarelli
Figure 4

Kate Albarelli danced for both the Met Opera Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet before switching her focus to fitness.

She then taught at powerhouse studios Physique 57 and Exhale's Core Fusion before coming up with her own barre method, called, Figure 4. Her killer class kicks off with quad work to rev the giant muscles and your metabolism, and includes customized touches like Memoryfoam pillows for back support, and barres at several heights (shorter women rejoice!).

It now commands a huge following at Pure Yoga's Upper East and Upper West Side studios, and she even introduced a super sweaty hot version this past spring.

Brynn Jinnett
Refine Method

Jinnett is the rebel of the ballerina to fitness world. She started dancing at age three and made it big when she joined the New York City Ballet. She also danced for the Pennsylvania Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Les Grands Ballets Candiens before "retiring" at 25.

But after poring over the latest fitness research and seeking out advice from elite athlete trainers, Jinnett firmly rejected the small, feminine movements of barre classes in favor of hard-core metabolic resistance training. She developed The Refine Method, which uses her unique pulley system and involves intense circuits that keep your heart rate up and your muscles working overtime. Refine opened a second location in Union Square earlier this year, and a third location opens on the Upper West Side this month.

Mary Helen BowersMary Helen Bowers
Ballet Beautiful

Bowers became famous after training Natalie Portman for her ballet sequences in Black Swan. But long before that, at age 15, she scored a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet. By 16, she was tapped to join the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, where she danced for 10 years.

Bowers used her ballet background to create her own fitness method, Ballet Beautiful, which she now teaches out of her white-on-white, loft-like studio in Soho, where class sizes are deliberately quite small, and in live online classes. And you might be surprised to hear that she doesn't make much use of the barre. Most of the thigh toning work is done on a mat. Her first book, Ballet Beautiful, was published in June.

Photo Credit: Yelena Yemchuk

Elisabeth Halfpapp
Core Fusion

Halfpapp took her first ballet class at age five and was immediately hooked.

She got a degree in dance education from the Hartford Ballet, and as a professional dancer, she performed and/or choreographed for Princeton Ballet, Dances Patrelle, Mercer Ballet, and Hartford Ballet.

She then worked for the Lotte Berk Method for 25 years before developing Core Fusion for Exhale with her husband, Fred DeVito.

Its become one of the most well-known barre methods in the country, with several variations, like CoreFusion Bootcamp and CoreFusion Sport, and is now offered at 20 locations.


Did we miss any ballerinas who became New York City fitness pioneers? Please tell us in the Comments section, below?



Share This:

  • 0

2 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. September 11th, 2012 at 10:14 am

    ella at pilates pro works on 14 St she does a barreX class, it’s a combination of trx and barrre, it’s a killer work out,

  2. September 12th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    The reason dancers have to retire in their 20’s is because the method is damaging to their body. Now we’ve turned it into some fitness craze, in which people feel they are working their muscles, but instead they are stressing them and the joint system.

    I’ve been a movement teacher for over 10 years now, and it was the pelvic tuck that created intense back pain and sciatica in my body.

    Take it from me, an Architect turned Teacher, I know how forces travel through the body and how they must leave the body, just like wind or an earthquake affecting the structure of a building.

Leave a Comment (* required)