Shall we dance?

You don'’t have to be a ballerina to benefit from these gentle toning moves.

When I was 2 1/2, my mom dressed me in a black leotard and pink tights and introduced me to dance. It was my first ballet class, a magical place with giant mirrors and a worn wooden floor that seemed to go on forever. We leapt and chased with abandon. We lay on our tummies and arched our backs into tiny baskets. Miss Patricia spun tulle above our heads, and we twirled with our arms stretched high, like tulips.

I grew up dancing. There was never a reason to quit, not an ache or pain or even a protruding belly. Turns out, pregnancy was a great time to head to the barre.

“I’ve got ex-ballet dancers in their eighth month of pregnancy taking classes,” says Charlotte Richards, a ballet instructor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and at Conjunctive Points, a new arts complex in Culver City, Calif.

For those of you who have never stepped into a slipper or have only dabbled in dance, incorporating just a few exercises from this rigorous discipline will keep you strong and toned throughout pregnancy. And because these moves also will improve your posture and balance, there’s no better workout to offset the added weight in your belly and your tendency to slump forward.

The Pregnant Form

In doing the following combination, which was designed by Richards, make sure to keep your shoulders in front of your hips, so that your weight is forward and your pelvis is neutral, not tipped. “Pull up in front and down in back, and stay forward and square,” Richards says. “Think about lifting up behind your ears for the best body placement.” Avoid the temptation to arch your back.

The first exercise is a grand plié and relevé in second position. This move strengthens the quadriceps and tones the inner thighs. The second is a wrap-and-resist isometric movement in first position, which will improve posture and the firm buttocks and upper legs. For shaping the upper back and abdominals, Richards recommends the port de bras, the third exercise in this routine, in which the arm stretches up, to the side and back in a big circle around the center of your body.

If you already have been taking ballet, do these exercises along with your modified routine. If you’ve never danced before, do them along with your usual prenatal fitness regimen. Be sure to limit jumping, turning and any movement that may throw off your balance. Now is not the time to be a prima ballerina.

The exercises

Do these 3 ballet moves 3 days a week, on alternating days. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop and consult your physician.

1. Grand plié and relevé Stand facing a barre or chair, feet slightly wider than hips, toes turned out (second position). Lightly hold the top of the chair or barre with both hands for support. Contract your abdominals and lift your chest, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Slowly bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor, spine erect and body weight over your heels. Your tailbone should point toward the floor throughout the move. Lower your torso only as far as you can without changing the position of your back. Slowly straighten your knees, squeezing your inner thighs together, and rise up onto the balls of your feet. (If you get cramps in your calves, delete this part of the sequence.) Lower your heels and lift your toes off the floor. Lower toes and repeat 3 times. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, inner thighs, buttocks, calves, shins; improves balance and increases circulation in the legs.

2. Wrap and resist Face the barre or chair with your feet and knees together, heels touching. Hold the barre or chair lightly for support. Contract abdominals, bringing your spine into a neutral position. Lift your toes up off the floor and pivot on your heels, rotating your hips and toes outward only as far as you can without changing the alignment of your spine. Then place your toes flat on the floor in first position. Your heels still should be together and your legs straight. Push your heels into the floor as you contract all of your leg muscles for 8 counts, keeping your upper body relaxed and spine aligned. At the same time, squeeze your inner-thigh muscles together and tighten your buttocks. Visualize pulling your thigh muscles out and around your thigh bone. Release, return to starting position and repeat 3 times. Tones buttocks and thighs; strengthens abdominals and back muscles; improves alignment and balance.

3. Port de bras Stand with your right side to a barre or chair in first position, heels together and feet turned out. Extend your left arm out to your side at shoulder height, palm facing down. Maintaining an erect position and neutral spine, lift your left arm up directly overhead, rotating palm in. Then, bring your arm toward the barre, letting your body follow but keeping your head facing forward. You should feel a stretch through the left side of your torso and left arm. Bring your arm back directly overhead so it’s in line with your shoulder, then stretch it backward. Keep shoulders facing forward, down and relaxed. Return to starting position and repeat this entire sequence 3 times before switching sides. Tones upper torso and keeps back muscles limber; improves range of shoulder-joint motion.