By SOPHIE HOTTINGER
Like many young men and women, I spent much of my childhood in a leotard and tights, practicing pliÃ©s in ballet class while standing at the barre, a handrail used to provide stability and balance during warm-up and exercises. I enjoyed the energy and movement of dance, and although I didnâ€™t realize it at the time, I was also gaining strength, fitness and muscle tone through the weekly exercise.
My youthful hobby long since abandoned, Iâ€™d assumed up until recently that the unique benefits of barre exercise were now outside of my (much less graceful) reach. But that was before a new kind of studio, B Barre Fitness, opened up its doors this September in St. Matthewsâ€™ Chenoweth Square.
Teaching the form-focused BarreAmped Method, B Barre offers classes based on muscle conditioning through rhythmic and isometric movements. They are not dance classes, but rather utilize techniques derived from dance, yoga and pilates alongside the traditional ballet barre to improve muscle tone in targeted areas of the body.
â€œA lot of what we do is a lot of muscle endurance, and itâ€™s using resistance. Compared to yoga and pilates, itâ€™s more results-oriented,â€ explained B Barreâ€™s owner, Stephanie Bristow. â€œWith pilates you can get good results, and with yoga you get a lot of flexibility. But (B Barre) kind of incorporates the flexibility of yoga, the precision of pilates and that concentration and that small movement… to try to amp up the results incorporated from all of that. …We want to sculpt more and increase the strength, increase the muscle endurance, lift seats, flatten abs.â€
Eager to experience the results of this new exercise method firsthand, I showed up at Bristowâ€™s 9:45 a.m. class in the recommended form-fitting attire, which, the business owner and instructor explained, allows her to keep an eye on class participantsâ€™ posture and positioning throughout the hour-long session. As the group assembled, a mix of first-time visitors and already proficient regulars, we each grabbed a rubber mat and chose a place against the barre-lined, mirrored walls. As the music began, Bristow started us off with stretches designed to loosen and warm our muscles, modeling the correct positioning as she offered clear, detailed instructions.
I followed the instructorâ€™s lead as she demonstrated every change in position, calling out the occasional reminder to lift our heels a little higher, bend our knees just a bit lower and â€œzip upâ€ our abdominal muscles to feel the tension in our cores. Each movement targeted a specific area of the body and consisted of attaining and holding a position, then adding slight movements to create resistance and build strength. The barre offered support and balance, just as in a dance class, and accessories like hand-held weights, exercise balls and fabric sashes created opportunities for an increased challenge with every position.
While the movements themselves were not prohibitively difficult, as the class progressed I felt my arm and leg muscles begin to shake with the effort of maintaining each position. Assuring us that this kind of resistance was normal, Bristow also impressed upon the group that the object is to do what you are able while continuing the workout, reducing the burden if necessary so that the behavior itself can continue. Looking about the room I saw class participants modeling each position at all different levels â€“ some setting down weights as I did, to continue the arm exercises, while others closely followed the instructorâ€™s movements with more practiced muscles, weights in hand. As the hour-long session wound down to a close, it became apparent that despite different ability levels, each class participant was able to create an almost customized version of the same workout, each individual challenging herself as much as she was able.
â€œIâ€™ve never taken an easy class,â€ Bristow summed up as we discussed the diversity of students and ability levels present. â€œAs you learn how to control your body more and you learn what youâ€™re doing and the moves more, you can sink deeper, and you can always use more body weight. Every class is hard, so itâ€™s for beginners and advanced.â€
And while B Barre offers multiple BarreAmped classes designed to challenge both beginners and experienced participants alike, the studio also recently added Fire, an advanced series of classes featuring less instruction and the addition of cardio exercises. First time visitors can try out a class free of charge, afterwards receiving a 10 percent discount on one of B Barreâ€™s packages or special $99 pricing for an unlimited month if they plan to return.
As the first-timers in my class discussed which package would fit their lifestyle or which problem area theyâ€™d most like to target, regulars lined up so that the instructor could take their measurements, a service B Barre offers at spaced intervals to help students track their progress. And despite finishing the class no more a ballerina than when Iâ€™d arrived, I left B Barre secure in the knowledge that, with the right workout, a dancerâ€™s physique wasnâ€™t nearly as elusive a goal as I once thought.
B Barre Fitness is located at 3934 Chenoweth Square. Call 502.930.BFIT (2438) or visit www.bbarrefitness.com for information on class times, packages and pricing.