Raising the Barre

By Karen – September 21, 2011

Ever wondered how ballet dancers have such long, strong, balanced bodies? A unique fitness craze spreading quickly around Austin promises to help the rest of us attain that shape and strength. It’s called barre, and it combines ballet, yoga and pilates for an intense sixty-minute workout. The ballet barre, used by ballet dancers for balance during exercises, can be used as a point of resistance in the barre fitness workouts.

Barre fitness leads to long, lean muscles and overall body benefits such as long-term postural improvement and deep muscle conditioning, according to Jennifer McCamish, owner of Dancers Shape in Austin. McCamish, 41, is a University of Texas graduate and former Radio City Rockette, with more than 30 years of dance experience. She said barre originated from the Lotte Berk method. Berk was a ballet dancer in the 1930s who suffered a back injury. She had the idea of incorporating the ballet barre with her orthopedic exercises during her recovery. To this day, barre work is successful in studios across New York. However, McCamish cautioned that dancers’ exercise routines are not meant for the general public.

“There are a lot of things dancers can do with their knees and backs that aren’t safe for everyone,” she said. “Many people have taken care to implement pilates to keep spinal alignment,” she said, explaining how the layperson might achieve some dance-regimen benefits.

The adaptation of ballet barre exercises for non-dancers became the fitness phenomenon known as barre. McCamish’s version of barre is influenced by her background. Her fast-paced, high-powered Shape class has only been around since October, but she has loyal clientele spanning in age from 20 to 60.

“I think my variation has a little more fluidity to it,” McCamish said. “It’s choreographed to music so you are moving to the rhythm. Mine is an athletic approach because dancers are athletes.”

McCamish said she gets a lot of athletes in her studio because barre is good for joints and core strength. Essentially, the entire body is put to work.

“The shoulder girdle, hips, abs, back, glutes, hamstrings, and thighs are all exercised,” she said. “It’s not just the belly region.

“If you’re doing a lot of running or cycling, a lot of times you don’t get to build strength in the lateral rotators, which, in those sports, is helpful to keep them safe.”

Tiffany Loos, barre instructor at Reform Pilates, likes to incorporate cardio into her routine. Clients start with a warm-up and continue with target-specific exercises.

“I like to add an aerobic component to my classes so it’s a little more cardio,” she said. “I also like to add stretching after each segment because you’re burning out a muscle group.”

She uses the term “burning out” to mean overworking a muscle group. Loos, 41, said this method is effective because you’re changing your body by quickly building muscle mass.

Loos, like McCamish, said that any barre-inspired class is going to have a very similar format: a full-body workout focusing on strengthening your core.

“You’re doing small, isometric movements so you’re not using momentum,” she said. “Since you’re staying in the muscle for the whole set, you quickly build your strength.”

Tobie Funte, owner of Pilates Bodies and Barre Austin, also infuses cardio into her classes with her studio’s patent-pending Beyond Barre Glide Board. Funte, 37, said that by raising your heart rate, you burn more calories.

“The Glide Board is side to side so the work is lateral,” she said. “We focus on endurance, stamina and heart health at the same time.”

All instructors agree that clients love the speedy results the most. Loos said her clients notice toned glute muscles, as well as a change in their arms and legs. The legs are a particular focal point.

“Your thighs look longer and more chiseled—like a dancer,” Loos said.

Funte said clients slim in areas that are harder to target, such as the inner and outer thighs. It’s definitely an intense one-hour workout, but according to McCamish, the pace of the workout also seems to speed up the time.

“It moves quickly so you don’t feel like you’re torturing yourself for three hours,” she said. “At the same time, you must press through thresholds to challenge yourself, making your muscles shake and burn,” she said. “It’s very challenging, but customers want the most for their money, and with barre, you’ll get an excellent workout.”

Sue Rubio, 35, has been an avid participant at Dancers Shape for eight months. She started taking barre-based courses as a substitution to yoga.

“It’s definitely replaced my yoga,” Rubio said. “I’ve toned my entire body, especially my legs and core. I can tell by the way my clothes fit and the way I feel.”

Rubio only goes to class once or twice a week, and sometimes visits the gym as a compliment to her regimen. Even so, she said she is in her best shape yet.

“I had a baby a year ago, and Shape definitely helped me lose all my excess baby weight,” Rubio said. “I look better now than I did before I was pregnant.”

Although Rubio only goes a couple of times a week, McCamish said the frequency for taking classes depends on what you want. Everyone is different, and their workout regimen should reflect his or her personality.

“We’re not doing strength training; we’re not lifting weights at the gym,” she said. “Everyone’s resilience is going to be different. When you’re working out, you need to find something you like. If you’re tired, don’t risk coming in and injuring yourself. Just listen to your body.”


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