The ‘burn’ for dancers

Barre classes: The ‘burn’ for dancers

Barre classes are so “in” right now. Workout tanks inked with “BARRE SO HARD” and water bottles reading “MEET ME AT THE BARRE” seem to be everywhere. And while barre classes have taken the world by storm, classically trained dancers might scoff at these dance-inspired workouts that claim to sculpt the long and lean muscles of a ballerina — a physique that takes years of training, technique and dedication to achieve. But the truth is, barre is more than just a trendy class to take on Saturday mornings before brunch with your girlfriends. In fact, the technique is an ideal cross-training complement for dancers.

In the late 1950s, a German dancer named Lotte Berk developed the barre technique in her own basement studio. After injuring her back in a car accident, Berk essentially healed herself through a routine that combined ballet conditioning with rehabilitative therapy. The Lotte Berk Method opened in New York City in 1971 and, although it closed its doors in 2005, inspired a number of niche barre methods and studios across the country.

Dance Informa interviewed instructors from some of New York City’s most prestigious barre studios, including Physique 57, Pure Barre, FlyBarre, and Equinox. What’s more, these instructors are professional dancers who have performed as Radio City Rockettes, on Broadway, and in national and international tours. Read on to learn how barre classes can enhance your dancing by improving stamina, strength, flexibility and your mind-body connection.

How would you describe “barre class” to your friends and family?

“Barre is a full-body workout that focuses on body weight and resistance within a small range of motion to fatigue your major muscle groups and stabilizing muscles to the point of exhaustion. Driven by music with a major focus on correct form, it’s an awesome opportunity to work on your strength and flexibility.”

What are the benefits of barre class?

“Barre is generally non-impact, which is really good when it comes to protecting one’s joints. Also, working the muscles in this small and controlled manner provides enough resistance training that you glean all the benefits of weight-bearing exercise without any risk of bulking up. The results are long and lean muscles with tone and strength.”

How is barre unique from other group fitness classes?

“There’s a very low risk of injury compared to traditional strength training. And you’ll use all muscle groups. Even when the focus for a particular set is on the thighs, for example, because you’re holding on to the barre, your abs are still engaged. You’re constantly working on core stabilization, even when the exercise is primarily working something else. The very small isometric movements (‘up an inch, down an inch’) with light hand weights, resistance bands or just your own body weight build remarkable strength. You’ll often find your muscles shaking like Jell-O! Working within this small range of motion gives you the opportunity to focus on finding your best form and getting the most efficient workout possible. Plus, there’s plenty of variety in the exercises, and class is driven by music, so you won’t get bored.”

How is barre inspired by dance?

“Barre is inspired by dance in two ways — the first being our use of a ballet barre for support and resistance, and the second in being how we want to shape our clients’ bodies. Dancers are lean, strong and flexible, which is the inspiration behind barre movement and results. We have similar foot positions to ballet like a plié wide second and use lifted heels (relevé) to strengthen the calf muscles and ankles.”

Why should dancers take barre as cross-training?

“In barre classes, we keep you in positions and isolate muscle groups for longer than you would in dance class. This forces you to really focus on strengthening the muscles through proper form. Lifting weights is important for bone, joint and muscle health, which can make your dance movement stronger and much more safe. We also have a huge focus on core stabilization, which is so vital for all styles of dance, whether you’re finding your center in a series of pirouette turns or isolating tiny pop and lock movements in a hip hop combo.”

The Audience

Keep in mind that people in the audience would be as scared if not more scared than you to perform. Many of them would not even dream of doing it. So, give yourself some credit for having the strength to perform in front of an audience and be proud of it.