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Ballet giving Japanese athletes new way to stay on their toes

Miya Nishizono, right, teaches Teikyo University swimmers how stretching through ballet will increase their athletic prowess and protect them from injury in December 2018 in Hachioji, western Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Miya Nishizono/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes are enjoying the benefits of ballet without the need to wear frilly pink tutus or crunch their toes into pointe shoes -- all thanks to a professional dancer-turned-YouTuber.

    Miya Nishizono is showing Japanese athletes that ballet is not just for those who dream of pirouetting and glissading across the stage in productions like Swan Lake. The dance form is proving a valuable way for them to spice up their routine with a unique form of cross-training.

    Nishizono made famous the ballet-inspired workout now known as "Majo Tore," which translates to "witch training," because of the magical results many have seen.

    The 36-year-old has led about 100 posture and balance workshops across the country, giving individuals an opportunity to enjoy ballet and reap rewards extending beyond the dance studio -- as far as the sports field.

    "Ballet strengthens the core so it's a great (cross-training) tool," Nishizono said.

    For athletes, incorporating ballet or ballet-based workouts into their training regimen helps them improve flexibility, body awareness, agility and coordination. Yoga is often used by athletes looking to achieve similar results.

    Standing toe raises and one-legged calf raises are among the ballet exercises Nishizono teaches. She does not teach dance steps and avoids using technical French ballet terminology.

    She says ballet helps athletes plant their feet firmly to create a stable base from which complex body movements like kicking a soccer ball or throwing a baseball can be made more effective.

    "If it feels like your feet are sucked into the ground, you're doing it right," she said.

    Nishizono, who is from Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu, took up classical ballet when she was seven years old.

    As a university student, she discovered modern and contemporary dance before going on to complete her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in sport biomechanics at the University of Tsukuba, where she analyzed human movement.

    In 2018, she worked with the Teikyo University swimming team to help its members learn an effective streamlined body position -- increasing their efficiency through the water by reducing drag -- in what became her first foray into the world of sport.

    Nishizono has built an online presence around her YouTube channel, where she has shown the world her at-home ballet workouts to help the community stay active during the coronavirus pandemic.

    The ballerina-turned-performance coach says fitness technology trends are evolving, with wearables designed to help people lead healthier lives, but it seems that some people have forgotten that our most valuable tool is our body.

    "These (YouTube videos) are more for total beginners with no exercise knowledge base. I hope this helps them understand their bodies better," she explained.

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