Mary Helen Bowers's brilliant ballerina tip for making your legs look longer (with tights)

Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)
Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)

A leotard, a pair of jeans, and ballet flats. That’s Mary Helen Bowers’s go-to outfit no matter where she may be in the world.

Her ballet shoes — they have a special sole made for walking outside — have carried the prima ballerina and founder of the iconic ballet-based fitness method Ballet Beautiful along the avenues of New York City, the boulevards of Paris, and through the bustling streets of Osaka and Shanghai. They’re an integral part of the easy, effortless studio-to-street chic that is signature Bowers and that she shares in her new book, Ballet for Life: Exercises and Inspiration from the World of Ballet Beautiful, which hits shelves on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

Bowers isn’t known just for the impressive array of celebrities she’s trained — Natalie Portman, Lily Aldridge, and Kirsten Dunst, to name a few — or for sculpting the bodies of Victoria’s Secret models. Her 500,000-plus Instagram followers love her keen sense of aesthetics — we’re talking satin ballet shoes, tulle tutus, and an Old World classic grace that’s at once highly contemporary — which reflect both her personal elegance and that of the art she’s practiced since she was three years old.

Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)
Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)

“I love how chic yet simple ballet style is for everyday dressing,” Bowers tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I practically live in my leotards, wearing them to and from the studio almost every day.”

And she has many style tips for those who love the graceful look of ballerinas. “Try pairing a classic scoop neck leotard or bodysuit with high waisted jeans or a pencil skirt for easy ballet street style,” Bowers suggests. “A leotard is more versatile than you might think!”

Tights are another ballerina staple. “I like to customize my tights by cutting them myself to create a stirrup or convert the look into a capri,” Bowers tells us. “You can also keep the tights long and simply trim the toe of the tights and then pull them down on the heel to further lengthen the line of the leg.”

Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)
Mary Helen Bowers (Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for Rizzoli USA)

While Bowers describes her first book, Ballet Beautiful: Transform Your Body and Gain the Strength, Grace, and Focus of a Ballet Dancer, which came out in 2012, as a how-to guide jam-packed with sample workouts broken down step-by-step, her new book — featuring original images by New York-based photographers Inez and Vinoodh  — is really a celebration of the entire universe of ballet.

“I think this new book is a lot more visual, it’s a lot richer in terms of content and inspiration,” she says. “Although the language is technical and there’s a lot of information on movement and on the workouts, it’s really about the Ballet Beautiful lifestyle and offers readers all kinds of tips to incorporate those into their lives. I see this book as an inspiration for everyone who loves ballet, who’s interested in fashion and the arts, and is looking for a way to bring all that together.”

Bowers starts with the dancer’s body and offers readers tips on how to cultivate posture and flexibility by strengthening the muscles of the legs, the thighs, the derrière, and the core. “I’m particularly focused on the core, not just because in ballet, that’s what holds you up, but also because I’m a mom,” she says. “It’s really important to keep the core strong.”

Bowers then brings in her personal aesthetic to translate the self-confidence that, she says, better posture and greater flexibility give rise to into everyday life, with wellness, style, and beauty tips for the studio and the street. Think leotards and ballet flats, a hint of lip gloss, the archetypal ballet bun, and other tidbits to inspire the kind of enviably effortless “ballet chic” that Bowers embodies.

While numerous ballet-based workout methods have crowded the online fitness space since Bowers launched Ballet Beautiful in 2008, she believes her unique take on distilling what many see as an impossible-to-undertake art form into something anyone can do anywhere, and achieve visible results, has helped Ballet Beautiful endure and grow.

“I think we offer something in terms of an authenticity that we don’t see in a lot of other programs, and a huge part of this book is capturing the move from what a professional dancer does, to what an everyday person can do,” she says. “I’ve learned that there are many people out there who want to feel powerful and strong on their own terms, who want to tune out the noise and the punishing nature of grueling workouts. With Ballet Beautiful, we have peeled back the mystery of ballet and allowed people to do these workouts anywhere and in their own time.”

Ballet Beautiful offers classes at two New York City studios, and its website allows users to choose workouts from an ever-growing number of streaming videos, including special pre- and post-natal programs.

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