By Bethany Ao The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
There is no shortage of ballet, yoga and Pilates studios offering classes in most metropolitan regions.
But now, barre studios are appearing, advertising a trendy new type of workout that combines the grace of ballet, the core strength of Pilates and the mental fulfillment of yoga.
For many, this is the best of three worlds.
To get the full barre experience, we attended a class at the new Barre3 studio in Raleigh, N.C., which opened in May and is run by owner Tori Fox.
Clients of all ages flock to the studio for high-energy, fast-paced workouts.
"Push on your toes, ladies!" Fox shouted, as women around the room straightened their backs and stretched out their arms, trying not to wobble too much on their toes. "Let's work on that core!"
Around the room, faces were shiny with sweat and muscles quivered with intensity, but the positive energy in the sunny studio kept everyone focused and motivated. The endorphins and peppy dance music helped, too.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The studio is divided between yoga mats on the floor and the ballet barre wrapped around the room. A typical 1-hour class begins with stretches to increase heart rates and flex muscles that will be used later in the workout.
Ballet techniques are used at and away from the barre, and there are bursts of cardio throughout the class. As women spread out across the room, stretching their backs and pressing forward on their toes, Fox ensures everyone is doing the exercises correctly.
"I want to see those shakes!" she said, adjusting a foot here and a shoulder there. "Feel that burn!"
The "shakes" are the result of the tiny isometric movements that exhaust the muscles they are sculpting and shaping. Barre lends visible definition to those muscles through such movements. That's why this type of exercise has grown in popularity.
Barre originated 50 years ago in London with German dancer Lotte Berk, who developed a series of exercises that combined her dance experience for strength and flexibility training.
Studios today still base their workouts around the same exercises, though they may add more dance touches or more cardio to make them their own. Over the last few decades, barre has caught on in the United States.
Julie Smith, the owner of Barre Up in Raleigh, said she enjoys barre because the workouts incorporate "combined strengthening," allowing her to work out both her abdominal and leg muscles.
"The workouts combine the integrity of Pilates and the intensity of barre," she said. "Barre works areas that women want to target in one class and gives them that mind-body connection."
Fox stressed that barre gives clients a complete workout.
"This workout appeals to people because it works out all the muscles," she said. "It's a very balanced and efficient kind of exercise."
Because of the fun atmosphere and effectiveness of the workouts, barre studios in the area have been receiving lots of positive feedback.
Smith notes that Barre Up strives to keep classes small. "People really love the individual attention they get from that," she said.
At Barre3, there is an emphasis on personal modification. "I always ask for injuries at the beginning of the class," Fox said. "And during the class, if someone is tired, I want them to take a break. I don't want there to be any pressure to keep up."
HARD, BUT FUN
At the end of the Barre3 class, everyone cooled down with lots of stretching while Coldplay played softly in the background.
When asked what she would say to people who feel like they might not belong in a barre studio because they do not have a background in dance, Fox said she would encourage them to give it a try.
"I don't have a dance background either," she said with a laugh. "But it's OK. We cater to all ages and all fitness levels. It's hard, yes, but it's fun, too."