Barre Hopping

Writer Nolan Lewis | March 11, 2019

An ugly duckling among swans is how I feel. I cling for dear life to the ballet barre as I attempt to balance myself on tiptoe while nubile dancers around me move effortlessly through a series of demi pliés and arabesques that form a basic routine, giggling on the sly. I’m the only guy in the class who waddles awkwardly, while around me are grace and poise personified, dressed in leotards and tutus. I should be mesmerised by the picturesque setting but after my first class, the only thing slimmer than their waistlines is my self-esteem.

I’m not prepping to become a ballet dancer though, make no mistake. I am hanging out at a Barre studio; an exercise regimen that combines ballet, yoga and Pilates into one trendy class – worth a try if you’re looking for a new workout to get summer ready.

BARRE CODE

What do Sarah Jessica Parker, Audrey Hepburn and Gigi Hadid have in common? While Sarah attended New York’s School of American Ballet, the latter swear by Barre classes. “Jennifer Aniston, another fanatic even installed a barre in her own home. It’s the ultimate Victoria’s Secret workout that the brand’s angels do to get themselves runway ready,” adds Anabel Chew, co-founder at WeBarre, a studio with branches in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“The technique was originally founded by a ballerina, Lotte Berk, in London in 1959. Berk got the idea of combining her barre routine with rehabilitative therapy as a form of exercise after injuring her back,” says Jill Pauley, vice president of marketing at Bar Method, which has a huge following in the US, including Hollywood stars. “In 2001, the Bar Method’s founder Burr Leonard, an avid lover of ballet and jazz classes, discovered the Lotte Berk Method while living in New York in 1981 and opened the first flagship studio in San Francisco.” The Bar Method quickly spread across the country and studios opened due to popular demand in New Jersey, Chicago and New York. Today there are more than 120 studios across the US and Canada.

“Berk originally sought rehab through clinical Pilates. She missed dancing and wanted to stay active, creating the workout we know today as Barre. It quickly gained a cult following in London that spread to New York. The rest is history,” adds Chew.

In the origin city of Barre, Blok London has two outposts in Clapton and Shoreditch, which look more like avant-garde art galleries than a gym. “Blok London is a boutique studio where fitness meets art, design and fashion,” says Corinne Naomi, who leads the Blok Barre class. “My dance background means that I place a high emphasis on multidimensional movement ensuring programme exercises move the body through all planes, while facilitating day-to-day function and skill acquisition,” she adds.

RAISING THE BARRE

Think of the grace, flow and technique of ballet fused together with the alignment principles and postural awareness of Pilates. Barre studios in recent years have incorporated other modalities like HIIT and yoga into their Barre methods, Chew says of the low-impact regimen.

“You’ll learn French words like plié, passé, port de bras, tendu, attitudé, battement, piqué and so on! Ballet jargon forms the basis for Barre moves,” Naomi adds.

Leonard infuses wisdom from her father George’s expertise in the martial art of aikido, as detailed in his bestselling book Mastery, a manual on Zen philosophy as a teaching system conducive to lasting physical changes as result of the Bar Method.

#REALMENDOBALLET

Just like classical ballet, class is more popular with women at least for now. Naomi admits, “95 per cent of my students are female. I have the occasional male dancer dabbling in a class, but my experience of Barre is still predominantly female-focused.”

“Guys, if you need a role model, Arnold Schwarzenegger mixed weight training with regular Barre sessions too,” says Chew. If you don’t believe her google ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger Ballet’ to see some unbelievable search results! Still, the numbers aren’t completely disappointing – a hashtag search for #RealMendoBallet reveals hundreds of Instagram posts of men in tights.

PRIMA BALLERINA PERFECTION

“The best part is that you don’t have to be a professional dancer. Barre strips down the prima ballerina training and makes it accessible for everyone,” Chew says, as she gears up for a WeBarre pop-up at the Shalimar Estate in Bali taking place between April 4–7, 2019.

“The result is a graceful, strong dancer-like body, including sculpted arms, flat abs, a lifted seat and elongated thighs, as well as improved posture and body alignment,” says Burr Leonard. “Today’s culture is fast paced and not everyone has the ability to carve time for studio classes. To provide convenience, Bar Online allows clients to take a Bar Method class online from the comfort of your own home, while travelling on work or on vacation. You can transform your body and feel strong and graceful, anytime you want, anywhere in the world!”

As I stretch and look at my reflection in the floor-to-ceiling studio mirror, after a few weeks of Barre training, I feel more aligned and my beer gut seems to have shrunk. I’ve had a bad posture and slouched since childhood. I may never become a principal dancer in this lifetime, but I’ve at least started inching towards becoming a swan somewhat…

"The result is a graceful, strong dancer-like body..."
~ Burr Leonard