On her toes, with a clear mind Ballet: 42-year-old Lori Berdeguez loves to dance -- for mental as well as physical reasons.


As a 42-year-old ballerina, Lori Berdeguez battles to maintain the flexibility and strength necessary to dance.

She says she wins the fight not with long hours at the bar, but with long pauses at the sink: She drinks a half a gallon of water every day.

"Apparently it works because I eat like a pig and never gain weight," she says with a laugh.

Twice a week, the 5-foot Berdeguez takes hour-and-a-half ballet classes at Maryland Hall, home of the Annapolis Ballet Theater. The classes help diffuse the deadline stress involved in her job as a production specialist with the Anne Arundel County school system.

She is a bit slower than when she was younger and more flexible, so, "I don't try to force things when they're not there." She concentrates on basic movements: the plie, the bending of the knees that builds strength; the tendu, in which the toe points, stretching the foot; and the releve, in which a ballerina starts in the plie position (feet flat, knees bent), then, with knees still bent, stands on her toes and gracefully rises.

In one move, a ballerina stands on one foot, bringing the toe of the other foot to rest against the inside of the knee; from there, she raises the leg until her foot is by her ear. Admitting that she can't do that, Berdeguez says, "My goal is to be able to get an extension of 90 degrees."

She also works on her arm movements, not just the familiar rounded arms, but turning her arm to bring the triceps forward. "It's hard and it hurts." But she is accustomed to soreness and even welcomes it, "because I know I'm working muscles."

Berdeguez began studying ballet in college, at Florida State University. Her biggest challenge came when she returned to dance after a nine-year hiatus spent having and raising children. During that time, she took jazz classes and played a mean second base until a torn rotator cuff limited her softball abilities. But she missed ballet.

When she took it up again, it took her about a year to get back in shape. "What I've found is that the muscle memory is still there." She danced in local productions and recitals, but now, due to time constraints, she's cut back to just the classes. She practices at home, but admits she's not disciplined about it, and she walks regularly.

Ballet is, of course, much more than just a fitness routine.

"For me it's as much mental therapy as it is physical," she says. "If I'm not doing it, I get crazy. It's not just an exercise, it's an art. You have to concentrate and clear your mind."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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