You gave up your tutu and ballet slippers years ago, but you can still dance! Barre classes are everywhere now and anyone who has tried a class comes away with a renewed connection to their inner ballerina. Have no fear, no experience is necessary as the movements and choreography, derived from Pilates, Yoga and Ballet, are fairly simple and easy to master.
Barre originated in the 1940’s with the famous German dancer, Lotte Berk, and was a fusion of Ballet, Pilates and sculpting. Today’s version of Barre incorporates ballet-inspired moves with the best of what we know about posture, alignment, core, cardio, toning and stretching using the most effective exercises from Yoga and Pilates. Basically everything you need from a workout can be incorporated into a Barre class and each instructor, studio and Barre method brings their own unique programming to their clients.
There are a few primary things Barre classes are trying to accomplish for students in the class. Posture is a catchall because every cue and every move is aiming to improve your posture and every exercise is most effective when good posture is the starting point. Every move we make in our daily lives is causing us to rotate our bodies inwards, basically an inward spiraling energy. Now imagine the ballet position, plié? This is a spiraling outwards move. And a high percentage of moves in Barre classes are done from a plié or externally rotated type of position. This concept of spiraling energy may be one of the important reasons Barre is so successful in improving posture as it aims to undo the postural deterioration that comes from being in front of computers and sitting. Spiraling open will open the front line of the body, and shorten the back line of the body, which is where we find not only our gluts but also our upper back muscle strength.
In Barre classes, you are standing on your feet for a good part of class. This is beneficial as it can improve your awareness on how best to move and stand as you go through your day and your life. Standing can also improve bone density, an added benefit as we progress through life, and because you are standing your instructor can see exactly what you are doing and cue you – there’s nowhere to hide!
Now as you begin doing exercises aimed at your butt or the gluts, the challenge is to actually use the gluts and core, and not some improper combination of low back and hamstrings. Barre has many variations of movements, exercises, and props to target your gluts and your instructor provides cues that ensure you become acquainted or reacquainted with correct movement patterns to ensure you are lifting your butt and not letting the hamstrings drag you down. It can be amazing how one small cue in movement and alignment can change an entire exercise to be more effective. It is an art, in all honesty, that Barre, Dance, Yoga and Pilates instructors have, to explain, cue and assist their clients in doing moves effectively and safely. While DVD’s and home-based exercises are fantastic to do, make sure they are complementing your in-studio instructor-led classes so you can make the most of your time at the Barre!
It’s a beautiful thing to add flowing arm movements and pretty kicks to your lunges, with a bit of added weight and resistance to make sure the muscles are getting stronger and leaner. If you attend a class you’ll also find yourself doing small little movements repetitively that at first seem very easy – you’ll be inclined to try bigger movements. However, I challenge you to stay with these very small movements for a few repetitions and you will then start to understand what it means to activate muscles “isometrically.” Isometric contraction of the muscle is the goal of many mind-body forms of movement including Pilates, Yoga, and Barre. These types of contractions help muscles to form stronger connections to the joints they support, to improve stability and movement patterns, and ultimately these closer connections help to bring a leaner look to your muscles and physique and create a more elegant beautiful posture.
Did we forget anything? Oh yes! The core! The abs! The centre of the universe…I mean our physique. This is basically the centre of movement, of posture, of connection. Without your core, it’s a bit like working on a computer with no power, no connection, and no intelligence. Would be a bit silly wouldn’t it? So if you hear your instructor tell you to zip up, to draw your belly button in, to feel a “cinch” wrapping around your mid-section, they’re just telling you to plug-in before you start all that work.
Get your ballet slippers ready!
Lynne Stewart, B.Sc., MBA is the Studio Owner/Instructor at Sol BARRE, Pilates & Yoga/SOL Wellness. www.solpilatesyoga.com. 416.948.7685.