A former professional ballet dancer has combined ballet and fitness to encourage mental health, holistic therapy, and wellbeing in Salford.
Heather Boulton, who is the owner of Ballet Contours in Ordsall, Salford, started dancing ballet as a child then ended up going down the vocational route teaching other talented young dancers.
Boulton soon became a parent and didn’t have the time to teach due to her limited time. She said; “When I became a parent, I came away from that type of teaching, and I realised as a parent you have limited time you have limited resources as well, you tend to put all your money into your child.”
For Heather Boulton ballet was not simply a hobby but a mode of survival during her upbringing. “It was a real time of reflection and I looked back, and I realised that dance had been so much more than a recreation, a hobby, and a career. It was something I used to survive. There were times in my childhood I when I was an elective mute, but dancing still allowed me to communicate and made me realise that I wasn’t on the periphery of society. With a lot of elective mutes, it’s difficult, you can’t go to acting class when you don’t talk. Whereas with dance, the ballet room was somewhere you didn’t speak anyway so it was inclusive in that way.”
This was what drove Heather Boulton to start Ballet Contours and reach out to other adults who were going through the same things she did. She said; “I thought there must be some many more adults out there who could benefit from this sort of holistic fitness, fitness on its own is known to release endorphins and make you feel good. But then to have the added benefit of the fact that ballet is so technical, so it’s such a purposeful exercise, its not something you can switch off and do mindlessly.I have tried swimming in the past and after 60 lengths you can pretty much keep going but your mind still wanders, or depending your demons I have tried yoga but there’s too much quiet time, and the demons get the better of you. There is no such perfect body that ballet is for. Ballet is for every body as in every type of body, every gender, every background.”
There are other methods of workout which combine dance with fitness. Zumba is a well known international branded fitness program, created by Colombian dancer Alberto Perez, and was founded in 2001. Heather Boulton decided to combine ballet and fitness because she believes it focuses on every single part of the body.
She said; “So because Ballet is an art, I think a lot of people don’t understand the physicality required that is why I call it Ballet fitness. We are almost like our worst enemy because it is an art form, for the hundreds of years since ballet has been around, its about making it look effortless, so the misconception is that it is easy. If you were not trying to make it look like it was effortless it would fall under the sports category that’s the level of physicality required. So ballet in its true form is exceedingly difficult and it does tone every single part of the body.”
When it comes to the topic of fitness, some people prefer going to the gym and using heavy machinery to workout. However, Heather Boulton believes people’s choice of workout mode is determined by their personality.
She said; “I suppose if you have got a machine, once you have been taught the biomechanics of how you use the machine, once you have that motion there isn’t a form of progression. And as humans we are innately competitive, even if it’s in ourselves our survival has always come from being innately competitive. Whereas when you come to ballet it allows you to see progression; you cannot actually plateau at something like that because when you feel like you’ve mastered a move, that move can then get faster, that move can be done to a different timing. So you’ve finally got an engagement and an involvement of your brain, and at no point can you switch off.”
The Royal Ballet, which is an internationally renowned classical ballet company based in London, has dancers from more than 19 different nationalities, as of May 2013. Boulton believes British ballet companies must put aside their elitism if they want to find British talent for their companies.
“I did feel that elitism, I did feel that only people from a certain background went to ballet. I realised that I have taught around the world, I have taught thousands of children and looking back over all these years some of my most talent students that I have ever worked with were from Irlam, and Cadishead.”
When Boulton and her daughter were at their most vulnerable, the City of Salford was there to offer them the help they needed. This was one of the reasons she started Ballet Contours in Salford, it was her way of giving back to the same community that supported her and her daughter in their time of need.
“Along the line, circumstances dictated that my daughter and I were in fact registered as homeless not so long ago, around the time of setting up ballet contours. Salford really welcomed us. We weren’t really living in Salford at the time, and they still looked after us.
We were supported by Salford Foodbank, The Mustard Tree, and Shelter. And just the acceptance of us by Salford people, has always made me realise that I want to give back to the community. 25 years ago, I was teaching in Irlam and Cadishead to under privileged children at a grass roots level.
My daughter was out of school for a long time and Salford LEA have looked after her, she is actually in a special school and that is all funded by Salford. So, I thought If I want to help people, I want it to be in the community that has helped me.”
It is very clear that going to the gym as a method of workout is not going away any time soon, however, innovative methods of fitness like Ballet Contours is gaining popularity. Heather Boulton believes that social media has helped bring more people to her studio, and recalls having to put advertisements for the company in the yellow pages.
She said; “Social media has helped break that down. When I look back at how we used to advertise, it was in the yellow pages, so you have an advert this big and you’re writing ‘all ages’. It’s no stretch of the imagination when people say a picture paints a thousand words, it really is true.
Instead of me saying ‘this is for everybody’, I put an image of my 75-year-old doing a gorgeous back extension and somebody says, ‘oh actually that is for me’. I put another one there of a gentleman covered in tattoos and somebody says, ‘oh it really is for everybody’. We do still have a long way to go but I think social media has certainly driven more people towards creative fitness, or creative movement as fitness. Because it is being able to show a picture straight away which somebody can identify, that when you read a written text it doesn’t always convey.”
If you would like to visit Ballet Contours studio here is a map:
If you would like to book one of Heather Boulton’s taster sessions and try your hand at ballet, visit the ballet contours website: balletcontours.com
You can also follow Ballet Contours on Instagram to see if ballet fitness is for you: balletcontours