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January’s Great Barre Experiment

Posted Jan 08 2012 11:55pm

See the dude in the red pants? Everyone else is all Swan Lake and he’s getting his ninja on. I heart him.

Pelvic thrusting is involved. And it’s every bit as awkward as it sounds. Especially when thanks to a lack of studios, the Gym Buddies and I were forced to use the railing next to the track as our ballet barre. One elderly gentleman actually grumbled “Are you serious?!” as he shuffled by. Yes, my friend, we are serious. Nothing says “serious workout” like doing “hip dancing” whilst clenching a rubber ball between your thighs, crowded around a 7-inch portable DVD plugged into the floor. Just ignore us. No really, please ignore us.

First position, hip shakes, our ankles tied together with rubber tubing – if you guessed ballet workout experiment then you win! (The prize: a 5-year-old who refuses to sleep. I ship for free.) For January the Gym Buddies and I are doing a particular kind of ballet workout called barre technique. If you are having deja vu, you’re not crazy. We did do a ballet experiment about three years ago but that was a different technique with a different perky instructor in black yoga pants and those funny socks with the dots on the bottom. It all started with a mistake. Mine, naturally.

Back in December Pure Barre contacted me about trying out their “16th Street” video series. The videos came with a cool little piece of equipment called a “double tube” which is like a Pilates ring crossed with a resistance band and so I said, “yes, please!” The day it arrived was right around Christmas and seeing as I do 99% of my shopping online I was getting boxes by the dozens. So when I saw it was blog stuff, I stuck it in a pile of other blog stuff to be looked at after I’d sorted out who was naughty (all of them) and who was nice (all of them – seriously how does Santa ever decide?!). The next day a book came in the package parade, also about ballet barre workout technique and so I assumed the two went together and put them all in the same box.

The holidays came and went and I read the book and watched the videos and the time had come to take this circus to the gym. Thankfully Gym Buddy Megan is a ballet dancer and Gym Buddy Daria can do the splits without even trying so I figured they had enough expertise to help me out. We did the videos, we tied ourselves up with rubber tubing, we plied holding onto chairs for balance, we did all the quad workouts in the book and the whole time we commented on how similar this program was to the one we did three years ago. After two weeks I finally realized: They’re not the same workout. AND. They’re exactly the same workout.

Pure Barre , the makers of the DVDs and the double tube, is a ballet fitness company founded by dancer Carrie Rezabek Dorr. The book, titled The Physique 57(R) Solution , is from a different ballet fitness company founded by dancers Tanya Becker and Jennifer Maanavi. The moves in each workout were so similar that I didn’t even realize they were supposed to be different until I noticed how similar they both were to the ballet program we tried out 3 years ago: The Lotte Berk Method.

Like any good thriller, this all goes back to World War II-era Germany. Lotte was a Jewish ballet dancer “at a time when ballet was considered a profession almost like prostitution” (remember this!) who fled the country with her dancer husband and daughter to England to escape the Nazis. After discovering that the English did not appreciate her singular style of ballet, she came up with a series of therapeutic exercises based on dance technique. Being possibly the most entertaining historical figure I have ever read about, she named the moves things like “the peeing dog” “the French lavatory” and, naturally, “the prostitute.” (See!)

Once you know this, suddenly all the hip gyrating and leg opening and shutting moves make a lot more sense, non? Lotte’s method was so popular that people came around the world to train with her and learn her technique. These people taught other people and each put their own little touches on it and started their own method which is where it all gets confusing and why I ended up where I did – offending old men at the gym. Oh wait. My point: Both Pure Barre and Physique 57 are derivatives of the Lotte Berk method (along with many other “barre” technique programs out there including “the Lotte Berk method” itself which was apparently copyrighted by someone other than the wildly entertaining-but-bad-at-business Lotte).

So far here are the practical things the Gym Buddies and I have learned about barre workouts:

1. Nobody has a barre. (And because of the way it’s spelled you will want to say it bARRRRRe! Don’t. Nobody likes a pretentious pirate.) Therefore, it is totally acceptable to use any stable surface. Chairs work great as do low wall walls, railings and unsuspecting Gym Buddies.

2. It burns. Do you know what a plie is? It may look all cutesy when little Clara does it in the Nutcracker but in reality it’s a squat – a deep, deep squat. And ballerinas do a lot of plies. After the first Physique 57 workout, I was toilet sore. Don’t be fooled, ballerinas are tough chicks and their legs are crazy strong.

3. Add equipment to make it a faster burn. The downside to bodyweight workouts – which is what ballet is – is that it takes a lot of reps to achieve muscle failure. So Pure Barre adds the “double tube” which you can thread over your ankles, feet, thighs or arms to increase the resistance of the moves. Physique 57 adds light hand weights and a playground ball that you mainly clench between your knees or hands. Either way, I loved adding resistance to the moves. Instead of having to do 100 plies, putting the double tube around our legs or squeezing the ball between our thighs (both?) had us burning out after 20. Excellent!

4. It gets a little porn-y. I imagine if you were doing this at home alone in your living room or at a Barre Studio with other women all doing the same thing it would seem totally normal. But doing pelvic tilts, hip shakes and “clam shells” and “lady frogs” (don’t ask) – well, let’s just say there’s no right way to aim your butt. I ended up facing towards the wall to camouflage my crotch antics but Allison was more comfortable facing away from wall (because, and I quote, “I feel like someone’s going to sneak up on me.” I’d make fun of her paranoia except that I would totally sneak up on her if my legs weren’t tied together with rubber hose.)

5. You don’t need to be a dancer, overly flexible or even very coordinated to do these workouts. These are not dance workouts. These are workouts based around dance technique. So there is no actual dancing. (Unless you count “hip dancing” which should really be called “floor humping”.) Whether you see this as a plus or a minus depends on if you secretly still want to be that ballerina princess! And hey, you can wear a tutu either way. Just saying.

Two things to consider if you are interested in trying these with us:

The Pure Barre 16th street video series comes with two videos. They are virtually identical. The music is the same. The people are the same. And, maddeningly, 90% of the moves are same. I honestly thought there had been a mix-up at the fitness factory and I’d been sent two of the same DVD until Allison pointed out that Carrie (cARRRRRie?) is wearing a different top in each one. If they come together for the same price then yay, you’ve got a backup! But if you have to pay for each one, well, I’d just buy one. Which one, you ask? Do you prefer purple or black tanks?

5. The Physique 57(R) Solution  has lots of illustrations of the moves and you get more moves than on most videos but the technique is hard to see from the book. I ended up watching a lot of YouTube videos and my old Lotte Berk videos from years ago to make sure we were doing it right.

So – have any of you ever tried a “barre” style workout? Any tips for us? Given the situation, would you rather face the wall with your butt pointing at the rest of the gym (like me) or keep your butt towards the wall but making it so you have to hip thrust at the gym (like Al)?


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