Raising the Barre

By Arianne Siegel

If you’ve recently seen a slender-looking, Lululemon-wearing woman with her hair in a sleek bun, guzzling green juice from Organic Avenue, you may have assumed she was coming from her weekly yoga or Soul Cycle class. But her ballet grip socks would disclose that she was actually coming from a barre class.

The first barre class originated in London when an injured former-dancer opened The Lotte Berk Method studio in 1959. After attending this workout for over a year, American Lydia Bach was inspired to open the Lotte Berk Method on 67th and Madison in 1971. Since then, barre classes have sprung up all over the country. Names include Pure Bar, The Bar Method, Xtend Barre, Cardio Barre, Physique 57, and Fly Barre, many of which are frequented by celebrities like Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, and Madonna.

A barre class is a 50 to 60 minute workout that uses ballet and Pilates moves to strengthen and tone muscles while burning fat. Classes typically cost from $30 to $40 a session and incorporate high-repetitions, isometric movements, and fitness tools, such as arm weights and resistance bands. The hour is divided into sections that target specific parts of the body with intermittent stretching to give your shaking muscles quick breaks. Peppy instructors wear microphones and switch between demonstrating moves, operating the music, and walking around the room to make personal corrections.

I remember my first barre class distinctly. My health-obsessed aunt from L.A. took me to Cardio Barre, a class with fast-paced EDM music, real ballet moves, and a plethora of blonde actresses – Dakota Fanning was actually in the front row. After ten minutes, my face was red. After twenty, my muscles were shaking like crazy. Halfway through the class, I decided to take a ten-minute bathroom break to avoid the weights section. Although I woke up incredibly sore the next day, I also felt I had achieved something and the class spoke to my inner child ballerina.

Although Cardio Barre has yet to come to New York, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Pure Barre, which boasts about 300 studios across the country, is less cardio and more about deep muscle burn and – in my experience – snobby regulars who are competitive about their form. The music here is slightly too reminiscent of bland elevator tones mixed with 80s beats. Then there’s Physique 57, the Soul Cycle of barre classes. Sleek, modern white walls house racks of lulu-designed tanks and framed health magazine articles, while the bathrooms offer spa-like showers and free lockers with customizable locks. The class itself felt intimate with only ten other people and there was a real focus on personal attention. The instructor quickly learned my name and repeatedly encouraged me over the microphone. Although larger classes like The Bar Method might be a better option for those that prefer to remain anonymous. Another downside to Physique 57 is that it lacks graceful dance moves. For this, I would suggest visiting Xtend Barre in Brooklyn Heights. The music is similar to that of Cardio Barre, but the crowd is more laid back, and the teachers are genuinely happy to chat with you before or after class.  

My last piece of advice for anyone interested in trying a barre class is to always BYOS – bring your own socks. Don’t get stuck having to buy a $15 dollar pair with a studio’s fancy logo on it.