What's all the fuss about Barre?

What are the benefits of a barre class and is it for me?
Have you heard about a barre class?  Perhaps you have seen it on the timetable at your local gym or a friend has been along to a studio and they have raved about how good it made them feel and how varied the classes were week after week?
If you have and you’re wondering what on earth it is and how it could help you, then I’m going to answer those questions and more!  This will be useful for you if you unsure about what all the hype is and perhaps these unanswered questions are stopping you giving it a try?  Let’s change that opinion!

What exactly is a barre class?  

A barre class is for anyone and everyone.  You don’t have to be the next budding ballerina or have danced from the day you were born (but if you have, come along too!).  I have heard so many people say that there is no way they could ever try a class as they haven’t got any dance experience and they’re not flexible or strong enough. First things first, let’s demystify the whole thing and get rid of some of the assumptions.

A barre class is essentially a ballet inspired fitness class which is usually set to upbeat music.  The music will have a good rhythm and there will be changes in the speed of the music depending on what move you are doing, or the section of the class you are in.  

The barre (not bar!) is used for part of the class to help assist you with the moves you are performing.  But, the barre isn’t there to hold you up and do all the work for you!  Imagine the barre is like your dance partner, it’s there for support.

How does the class work?

You may see a class being advertised to ‘sculpt your body to be like that of a dancer’, or ‘improves your flexibility and will balance and tone your muscles’.  These examples do have elements of truth in them but can still be misleading that you have to come from a dance background - YOU DO NOT!

Barre was, however, developed by ex-dancer Lotte Berk, after she injured herself and wanted to find a form of exercise which would keep her supple and fit.  At the same time she was looking for something that would rehabilitate her injury and Voila!  Barre was born.  

The idea behind the class was to enable anyone to attend and to benefit from the great strengthening and toning elements that the class has to offer.  Regardless of your age, weight, or level of fitness, when you attend a barre class you can get results.

What is the structure of the class?

Barre is inspired by ‘elements’ of ballet, yoga and Pilates.  It focuses on low impact, high intensity movements and has the infamous isometric move throughout the whole class.  Isometric contractions do not change the length of your muscle and there is little or no movement. 

For example, when you are sitting and holding in the chair position (facing the barre, lightly holding onto the barre and sitting back as if to sit onto a chair) there is minimal movement as your abdominal muscles and your quadriceps are working hard to keep you still.  This is an isometric movement.  

The class will start with a warm up which is often kept the same for each class. This allows your body to become familiar with the movement and allows you to focus on the technique and precision of your moves.  The warm up will focus on your whole body ensuring that all of your joints are taken through a good range of movement and you are ready for the next phase of the class.
Depending on which barre class you attend, the structure may vary slightly.  Purebody by Adele Barre classes start with the warm up and then moves smoothly into an upper body strengthening series which can use small equipment such as hand weights, toning balls, pilates circles and resistance bands.  However, the moves can be done without any equipment at all.  We will incorporate moves at the barre and in the centre of the room.

Typically after that we move onto a section known as Adage.  Adage is a series of exercises which are performed in the centre and consist of slow and graceful movements which may be simple or a little more challenging!  Don’t be alarmed by the sound of this!  We combine some easy to understand and learn moves to really give your body the sense of how to balance and strengthen using your deep abdominal muscles and back muscles to help support you.
Our main section at the barre can last for 20-25 minutes and I like to describe it as a journey around your body!  We will work our legs, bum, waist, stomach and arms through moves that flow together and allow you to feel the grace of transitioning from 1 posture to another.  We use demi pointe (on your tip toes!) and occasionally other ballet terms, but none that you wouldn’t have heard before.

Finally we go to the mat and focus on our abdominals and a little more on your lower body.  Finishing off with the most relaxing series of stretches intended to open your hips, shoulders and release any tension that may have built up in your body during the class.

I have no idea what to wear!  

Please don’t feel you have to go out and invest in a whole new wardrobe or expensive leg warmers!  By all means do wear leg warmers if you already have them, but they are not essential.

Wear anything that you can move easily in.  A comfy pair of leggings and a vest top are a great place to start.  Experience the joy of movement and the fun and benefits of the class first before you spend a whole load of money on things that you may not wear again.

Once you have been to a few classes and find yourself hooked (which I’m pretty sure you will!) then have a look at getting some grippy socks or ballet shoes if you wish.  But the class can just as easily be taken bare foot (that’s me all the time!).  But please do remember to bring some water as it can get quite warm.

What if I do find it hard?

Every move, posture, exercise, ballet step can be made simpler (modified) and likewise if you are up for more of a challenge, can be made harder (progressed).  What is so wonderful about a ballet based barre class is that you can decide how much you want to challenge yourself during the class and there is no expectation or judgement to push yourself further than you want to go.

The class will have a focus on posture all the way through and the muscles you will train will be strengthen, toned and lengthened without adding bulk to your figure.  

Feel better about giving a class a try?  Why not start with bringing a friend along to your first class?  That way you both have someone there to support you and pull faces at when perhaps you start to have a little bit of a leg quiver!!

I hope to see you at the barre soon!

Adele Smyth