A ballet-inspired “barre” workout has been sweeping the nation.
Its popularity is driven by women wanting to achieve a dancer’s physique and strength — with or without tutus and ballet slippers.
At Align Pilates in Minneapolis, noses drip with sweat, muscles quiver with exhaustion, and Beyonce blares from the speakers as class instructor Adrienne Fitzmaurice affirms what everyone is thinking:
“Yes, this is hard!” she hollers, encouraging the women to pulse — or make tiny movements — and hold each pose for just three, five or 10 more seconds. “Especially if this is your first class … you probably think this is crazy!”
Crazy hard, anyway. That’s the verdict reached in the dressing room following the 60-minute class where a combination of Pilates, yoga and ballet movements, along with bursts of cardio and the use of a ballet barre for support and resistance, provides a high-energy, full-body workout.
“Everyone’s been talking about getting their butts kicked in barre class,” said Sarah Pepin, 35, of Minneapolis. “I’ve never worked every muscle that way before. I could hardly walk the next day.”
Barre is abuzz in the U.S., but the idea originated in London 50 years ago with famous German dancer Lotte Berk. The method was refined in the United States in the 1970s, and since then, fitness enthusiasts on the East and West Coasts, as well as celebrities like Madonna, have caught on.
In the last year alone, at least a half-dozen barre programs have launched in the Twin Cities, mostly by women who experienced the workout elsewhere. Rachel Warford wanted to move back to the Midwest, but was unable to find the barre classes she had loved in New York. So in November, she and sister-in-law Paula Warford opened the Barre in downtown Wayzata, Minn.
The same month, Tina Dunlap opened Balanced Barre and Pilates just a block away.
“I always said it would be a matter of time before barre came to Minnesota,” said Dunlap. “It just so happens it hit at the same time and now it’s really booming.”
Dunlap, an avid marathoner and triathlete, had her first barre experience last January in California and became “addicted.”
“It was the most challenging exercise I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I’d planned on running home from class and had to have my husband pick me up because I was so exhausted.”
Several national franchises have formulated barre workouts, but independent studios often follow the original Lotte Berk Method or create their own. Some are more cardio-based, while others focus more on dance elements, but the principles are the same.
Barre class typically starts with stretching and a warm-up on a yoga mat to get the heart rate up, then incorporates a combination of Pilates, yoga and ballet movements to sculpt and tone every muscle in the body. It’s basically a series of tiny isometric movements that cause the muscles to shake to the point of exhaustion.
Oh, yeah, and close attention must be paid to your posture and alignment, which the instructor often checks during class.
At Align Pilates, cardio is added to the barre workout, making it the most rigorous class offered, and the most popular. The classes are heavily populated with women in their 20s and 30s, but the men who show up are usually surprised by how challenging the workout is.
“I was a sweaty mess by the end,” said Ryan Brown, 32, of Minneapolis. “Pro athletes use ballet to work on their strength, balance and core, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
For people who are less fit, it’s easy to make modifications while keeping up with the class. Participants are encouraged to work at their own pace.
Yoga attire is suggested for barre class, or other form-fitting clothes, so that the instructor can check for correct body position. Class participants wear socks or go barefoot, but serious dancers prefer to wear ballet slippers and leotards in some classes.
Ballet Royale in Lakeville, Minn., has added barre fitness classes to cross-train ballet students and adults — mostly moms of students — who want to learn the basics of ballet. The classes incorporate core Pilates exercises, but the focus is on proper ballet techniques. Classical music plays and everyone wears ballet slippers.
The YWCA-Uptown also offers a dance-centric barre class. Participants range from 18 to 70 years old, and many are former dancers.
“I used to dance as a kid and I get to relive those days in barre class,” said Tivi Radder, 35, of Minneapolis. “It makes me nostalgic for my childhood. It’s a really great workout, too. That’s the icing on the cake.”