In The Studio with Lily Saito

In The Studio with Lily Saito

Ever wanted to learn how to move with the grace of a ballerina? Well, in honor of National Dance Day, let’s dance like nobody's watching! Dancing is known to be one of the most therapeutic ways to exercise. Humans have many different ways of expressing happiness — dancing is one of them. All your worries go out the door and all of your attention is truly connected to your movements. My name is Lily Saito, a professional ballet dancer, and I’m so excited to share some exercises that ballet dancers do to improve their balance, flexibility, and strength, which allow you to move freely and with grace. Come meet me at the barre!

In The Studio with Lily Saito


Many of you have noticed how flexible many dancers are, but a lot of us were not just born that way! These are some stretches I do everyday to get my hip mobility ready for ballet class in the mornings.

Butterfly Pulses

This stretch is the best way to get your hips to rotate outwards, also known as turnout. Sit down with your feet together, knees apart. Start to bounce your knees up and down, trying to get your knees closer and closer to the ground.  (20 Reps) 

Butterfly Stretch

Stay in the butterfly and slowly walk your hands forward, trying to keep your back nice and flat. Breathe in, and while exhaling walk your hands further forward.  (Stay for 5 deep breaths.) 

Clam Shells

Lie down on your side with your top leg resting on your bottom leg. Bend your legs in front of you and lift your lower legs off the floor. Use your hip rotators and glutes to open your top knee outwards and lower your knee back down, in a controlled motion.  (10 reps each side.) clam shells

clam shells

Relevés (Calf Raises)

Many of you wonder how ballerinas go up on their pointe shoes. The answer is calf strength. Ballet dancers do countless amounts of relevés in classes which will improve lower leg muscles and also help maintain balance in a consistent manner. 

Position yourself next to a ballet barre or chair. Stand with your heels together and your toes apart. This is called First Position in ballet terms. Bend your knees, or plié (keep your knees over your toes to prevent knee injury!), go up onto your tippy toes by lifting your heels off the ground as high as you can, then slowly lower back into your plié.  (10 reps) 

Relevés (Calf Raises)

Repeat the same thing without bending the knees.  (10 reps) 

Go up onto your relevé and stay there. Try taking your hands off the barre (or a chair) and try to balance. 

Relevés (Calf Raises)

Connect your core by pulling your stomach in and up. Engage the muscles in your booty to solidify your balance in your first position.  (Hold for 30 seconds.) 


Stand with one hand on the barre. Stand on one leg and bend at the knee. Gently touch the tip of your toe to your knee. Bring your free arm to a round position in front of you. Find your balance and take the other hand off the barre, bringing it into the same round position in front of you, making a circle with your arms.  (Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.) 

OPTIONAL:   Go up onto your toes on your standing leg and test your balance. (Hold for 10 seconds.) 

Swan Arms

Float your arms above your head and flap your arms like they are the wings of a swan. Keep your shoulders down when lifting your arms and engage your lats when lowering. Think about the movement coming from your shoulder blades.  (10 Reps) 

Now, keep your arms out to the side and think of pushing something (like water) away from you with the same wave-like movement as before.  (10 Reps) 

REPEAT WITHOUT REST 3 TIMES (feel the burn!) 

Doing these exercises 2-3 times a week can be very beneficial to establishing a strong center while executing movements with the flow of a dancer. 

This dance workout was prepared exclusively for Ellie by Nashville Ballet company dancer Lily Saito. You can find her powerful poses on Instagram at @LilySaito_.