Is a popular ballet barre class worth the hefty price tag?

MIND + BODY

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Clients hold classic ballet positions and incorporate focused, isometric movements in the workout class at Pure Barre Charlottesville. Photo: Elli Williams Clients hold classic ballet positions and incorporate focused, isometric movements in the workout class at Pure Barre Charlottesville. Photo: Elli Williams

“This isn’t so bad,” I think to myself as I grip the ballet barre and sink into the plié squat I’ve been instructed to hold, glancing around at the other women in the 5:30pm Tuesday Pure Barre class. Suddenly the instructor’s hands are on my hips, gently realigning my posture, and an intense burn sets in. Ow.

Turns out it’s a lot more challenging when you’re doing it correctly.

Pure Barre is a nationwide chain that offers daily exercise classes using the ballet barre and tiny, isometric movements to work muscles I didn’t even know I had. Drop-ins cost $23, but new clients can try a month of unlimited classes for $100, and annual and semi-annual memberships are available. Charlottesville franchise owner Amy Jo Bright said the local branch, located on Old Ivy Road, has attracted more than 1,400 regular clients since it opened in June 2012.

We start out with some basic warm-up exercises, which incorporate high knees, push-ups, planks, and light hand weights. The 15 or so women in my class—most of whom appear to be college students or young professionals like myself—have clearly done this before. They’re smoothly transitioning from one position to the next while I fumble with hand and foot placements, and before our instructor even tells us to do so, the chiseled woman next to me slides effortlessly into a full-on split, thighs flat on the carpet.

Once we’re warmed up, we position ourselves next to the ballet barre that extends around the perimeter of the room. Our instructor, Heidi Johnson, is a local marathon runner and spin instructor who said her clothes started fitting differently almost immediately after she began doing Pure Barre last year. As she guides us through the exercises, I’m grateful to have a spot on the mirrored wall, which allows me to double check my own positions—wait, do what with my left leg?—and glance at my neighbors for reassurance.

One of the first moves involves grasping the underside of the barre in a bicep curl position, standing on my tiptoes, bending slightly at the knee, and making tiny, barely noticeable tucking motions with my hips. We isolate each hip one at a time, doing these standing tucks for what feels like forever. No more than two minutes at the barre, and my quads are already shaking. My thigh muscles are burning in a way that I’ve never felt through running, swimming, or weight lifting. I look up and the woman next to me, whose legs are also quivering, has her eyes closed and a tight-lipped, concentratedly peaceful expression on her face. My own face is the same bright red as the exercise balls at our feet, and beads of sweat are lining my hairline, despite the fact that I’m barely moving. I’m suddenly less grateful for the mirror.

I make it through the 55-minute class —which ends with gentle stretching and a 90-second plank—and I’m already feeling it. The leg soreness I had anticipated, but I’m surprised when I start jotting down notes afterward and the newly strained muscles in my tricep cause my hand to shake.

It’s a tough workout, and the class moves along at a faster pace than I expected. It isn’t for everybody. But the intense positions and isometric movements will certainly sculpt muscles and supplement a regular cardio routine, and Johnson and Bright promise that the soreness goes away after a couple classes.

 

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