Pass the Barre: Could you follow a ballerina fitness regime?

I had been binge-watching the Australian teenage musical show, Dance Academy — a tale of love triangles and personal struggles at a ballet school — when I first heard about Barre. What gripped me most about the show was the dancing — the delicacy of the whirls, twirls and flights of motion that seemed to dwell on the very edge of what the human body allows.

So, a fitness regimen that borrowed from ballet, Pilates and yoga sounded marvellous.

Here’s what I found in my one-hour trial session at new Mumbai outpost of the New York-based Physique57.

* You don’t have to wear leotards; regular track pants and tee will do. You don’t have to be particularly fit. Our group had a mix of young and old. 


* It’s not all dance, and it’s relatively injury-free. The floor is covered in foam mats for support and extra grip. Weights and stretch bands are used during the workout too. Unlike in ballet, Barre doesn’t include jumps. Your feet never leave the ground.

* The instructor got us to warm up with 1 kg and 2 kg hand weights. Then we all stepped up to the ballet barre. Arms stretched out, backs straight, legs bent in such a way that you can’t see your toes. Then go down into a sitting position, and sort of bounce up and down in a slow, controlled motion.

* Easy, I think, with a silly grin. Just then, and the many muscles in my inner thigh and buttocks that I didn’t know existed start begging me to stop. This workout really does tone and work out all you’ve got, and they were rebelling. ‘This is your hour, make it count,’ the instructor said, as if reading my mind. I kept going.

* The next variation was fun. I had seen it on Dance Academy so many times, and now I know what it takes to get it right. You turn sideways, lean your left hand on the barre, lift your heels, pull your feet close together, bend your knees and sweep up and down to peppy music. This time, just after four repetitions, I felt as if a thousand needles were piercing through my glutes. My thighs were trembling. My heart was beating and sweat was running down to my stomach.

* I continuing pushing myself for what seems like an eternity – in actuality, it was three minutes – but finally gave up, feeling relieved but disappointed. When I looked around, the other women were still persevering. That motivated me and got back into position.

* We then fetched our balls, stretch bands and pillows for a couple of exercises at the barre and on the floor, to finish with an encouraging round of applause for ourselves.

* Barre, with its emphasis on form, alignment and core engagement, is great for developing strength, flexibility and tone the body. It’s largely injury-free. In fact, it can help with physical rehab. It was created by the ballerina Lotte Berk in 1959. She combine ballet moves with rehabilitative exercises in 1959, after injuring her back.

* The best thing about the workout, for me, was that it seemed to combine exercises with stress relief. By the end of the Barre session, my body felt both worked and free. There were no aches, which surprised me. Perhaps more importantly, I have a far greater appreciation for the dance form and its lovely dancers.

Barre workouts can also be done with the support of a steady table or chair. Remember, form and posture are key. If you’d like to try it out but don’t have a Barre studio in your city, check out the YouTube channels of Physique57, Barre3 and Popsugar Fitness.

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