Confinement fitness: Pilates with the Monte-Carlo Ballet

asier uriagereka pilates ballet monte carlo ballet
Asier Uriagereka

The Monte-Carlo Ballet Company has opened its online Pilates sessions to the public to allow everyone to stay fit during the coronavirus crisis. The classes, which are part of the training programme for professional dancers, are now open to anyone with an intermediate level of Pilates. After attending a class, Monaco Tribune spoke to MCBC ballet master and Pilates teacher Asier Uriagereka.


With cultural institutions across Monaco opening their virtual doors to the public in a heart-warming show of social solidarity, offering activities, crafts and tours alike, the Monte-Carlo Ballet Company is no exception. Last week they announced via Instagram that they were inviting the public to join professional dancers Monday to Saturday at 11 am for an intermediate-level Pilates class.

Asier Uriagereka, the instructor, revealed that he first started the class to give the company members regularity to their week and a way to connect to their fellow dancers. In this plan to combat loneliness amongst the troupe, he thought the same could be offered for members of the public.

“I just thought, doing this work for the dancers, I’m sure there are lots of people at home who probably love dance, the company’s work, [and] they would be interested to see them be present during this class and take the class alongside them. So I thought it would be a lovely idea to open it to other people.”

How does it work?

  • Via Zoom call. Create a free profile online and use the meeting ID to join at 11 am, which is available on the Monte-Carlo Ballet Company Instagram account
  • The session lasts around one hour
  • You will need a yoga matt. Often a towel, two small weights (or in my case, two bags of flour), and a stick (or in my case, bedroom wall)

The class works through Zoom, an online video call programme which has become increasingly popular during lockdown. For those who do not know how it works, think group FaceTime, but with the option to turn your webcam off. For me, it was a personal reassurance that Monaco’s fittest people would not be able to see me fall during a side plank. But it is also useful to focus more on the instructor.

I entered the call early to secure a place and arrived as Jean-Christophe Maillot, the Director of the company, was talking to the dancers. Even over a public video call, it felt special to see a friendly conversation between Director and dancer. It was like a window into a world we as the public does not see – the group discussion at the beginning of dance class, the pre-performance pep talk. It only made me more excited to get stuck in.


Expert unity of Pilates and ballet

The instructor, Asier Uriagereka, went at a steady pace throughout the session while still taking time to explain the movements fully. His explanation was helpful not only for some like me with very little Pilates knowledge but also for those who are more seasoned in the sport. Virtual learning of any kind can be challenging; let alone this strenuous physical activity. Yet, the clear direction he adopts during the class sidesteps this potential pitfall.

The programme varies each day, but the whole body is engaged with every class. Balance, stamina and posture were the three main focuses of the particular session I attended. My abdominals seemingly hurt the most afterwards, but this was more of a reflection on my weakness rather than that it was the primary focus of the class. Moves varied from simple pelvic curls, cat stretches, and chest lifts to advanced movements like the shoulder bridge, hip circles and kneeling side kicks.

In terms of ballet influence, Asier included specific techniques targeted at dancers. Through spiralling movements, he worked on hip turnout and the opening of the chest, habits more easily slacked off during lockdown. His inclusion of grand battements, developpés and ponchés to regular Pilates exercises would be an excellent practice for those who still dance. For those with no ballet background, it would not be an alienating factor in your practice as his demonstration is easy to follow.

“In this Pilates class I’m teaching now it’s definitely the way I teach the students of the Academie Princesse Grace,” said the instructor. “Same ideologies, same ideas behind. I explain it to them in the same way, so I always try to help people use their imagination. I think that helps a lot in trying to understand how to feel their bodies differently.”


Coming together in social distancing

Asier himself is enough to make you want to join if you were to have any doubts. Being encouraged to “liiiiiiiiift!” brought a huge smile to my face each time he said it. As you stretch as far as your body can take you, he makes the movements seem like tools to make you stronger, rather than hurdles to overcome. His encouraging tone and genuine smile is an excellent testament to the solidarity borne from this pandemic. Even during a crisis, we can come together in some way and still appreciate some form of group activity.

This collective element to the activity has worked exceptionally well. The instructor revealed that members of the company from back in the 1980s were even joining the class.

Despite the success of the group call, virtual teaching can be difficult. The ballet master finds teaching online a new challenge brought on by confinement, a practice with which he does not entirely agree when it comes to Pilates. The necessity to modify students’ movements and technique is the key to success in sport.

“I think it’s okay if you know the dancer, if you know the student. [Here] you can’t apply your corrections so it can be really difficult. It’s only because we are in this situation, it’s the only thing we can actually use. Then I think it’s wonderful that we have it.”


Training under lockdown

Pilates is not the only way that the members of the company are keeping fit during these unprecedented times. This class is the most regular, the only one for both professional dancers and the public. A pointe class runs directly after three times a week, and a one-hour yoga session has become part of the programme.

Given the uncertainty surrounding how long lockdown will last, the company decided to cancel the upcoming performance of Balanchine, but dancers have received videos of choreography for upcoming shows to familiarise themselves with certain routines. They have received videos of la F(ê)aites de la Danse, an annual show choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot.

“We’re not asking them to do more than that,” revealed Asier. “It’s very different for each dancer; some dancers have a bit more space, they don’t have children, so they’ve got a bit more time, those that do have children they are a little more occupied. We don’t want to put stress on people.”

Overall, the session was an excellent experience and highly recommendable to any dancer or Pilates-lover. Even someone with basic knowledge of these two practices would be able to profit from the teaching. For those with a higher level of Pilates, it offers the best way of keeping up your fitness in a class-related environment. Although YouTube tutorials can be more convenient for those who are not available during the morning, if you have the time, definitely try it out.