What is Barre class and why is it so beneficial to dancers (and everyone else)?
You may have heard of Barre class, the workout that has celebrity endorsements by everyone from Drew Barrymore to Madonna, but if you've never actually done a class, you may be surprised by its versatility. Different to (but inspired by) the barre exercises in a traditional ballet class, Barre combines elements of several fitness disciplines to create one powerful strengthening and conditioning class, making it an ideal cross-training programme for dancers.
We wanted to find out more, so we spoke to Barre instructor, dance teacher and ex-professional dancer Brad Inness about this effective workout method, which he believes is the perfect supplemental workout for any dancer wanting to improve flexibility and muscle strength, as well as a fun and balanced form of exercise for those who don't dance.
How would you describe barre class to someone who has never heard of it before?
Barre is an all body workout, focusing on lengthening, toning and stretching, whilst utilising elements of ballet barre, dance, yoga, pilates and fitness, within a class of around 45 minutes to an hour. It depends on the teacher, as every Barre class is structured differently, but in my classes often I’ll do some exercises in the centre, focusing on balance and your center/alignment, and then we go over to the barre. Roughly 70-80% of my class is then done at the barre. I create my own exercises and my own playlists, making my Barre classes unique to my style.
Is it all stretching and slow movement or is it really fast-paced?
Both! I enjoy utilising all elements of fitness, to increase your stamina and overall fitness level. We do some cardio, pas de bourrées, kicks, squats etc, and we then use the barre to stretch at - splits on the barre, pulling yourself in, lifting the leg and holding, relevés at the barre, high retiré etc.
So it really is for your whole body?
Yes, it’s a full body workout. It’s really great for your core, it improves your posture, helps your muscles to work correctly, increases your flexibility, targets every muscle group and is considered a “low injury risk” class. But most of all it's fun!
Why is barre beneficial to dancers?
Barre is beneficial for dancers because two of its focuses are flexibility and strength; which are both important elements required to be a professional dancer. It’s fixated primarily on toning the muscle, rather than building it. It’s great for a dancer’s stamina also, and working on your alignment within the class, given the Pilates influence.
Do you get many dancers attending your class?
Yes I do, I get ex-dancers and dancers who are still performing, who are wanting to continue to develop, grow, and learn. I’ve even had Florence & the Machine in my class - Florence Welch, a few times. And Minnie Driver, and a few others I can't name! That was in London. It’s highly popular with celebrities, a lot of Victoria’s Secret models, and models and ballerinas in general have all attended my Barre classes.
Do you find people who’ve never done barre before are surprised by the class?
A lot of my feedback is exactly that - "I wasn’t expecting that, and I’ll see you next week". I also hear that people are figuring out muscles they haven’t accessed for a long time, or ever, so they do get quite sore. Those who attend who aren’t from a dance background are sometimes intimidated by the title “Barre” and think that only really good dancers can go, but it is predominantly for everyone; there’s a lot of repetition and exercises are well explained and demonstrated, so there’s nothing to worry about. Also, there’s plenty of options for adjustment within every exercise.
What do you think people do expect?
That’s a tough one! I think people expect a dance class, or a class that is predominantly tailored for dancers, which, I suppose is true to a certain extent, as we are trying to achieve a “dancers body”. I assume they come with the knowledge that we will do some exercises on the barre (obviously), and also expect to have a proper workout. Coming from a professional dance background myself, I do this but it is still very 5, 6, 7, 8. I like to set the standard higher in my classes, maintaining a level of discipline, and trying to get as much out of people as possible, so they can see results quicker, which is probably why a lot of dancers do attend.
Would you say barre is good for injury rehabilitation?
With the Pilates influence, its really great, as Pilates exercises promote an even musculature throughout the body by strengthening the core. Pilates also stresses spinal and pelvic alignment, which is critical in getting us to move the way we're supposed to move to avoid injury. The principles of Pilates are awesome for rehabilitation, but if they aren't used in conjunction with proper therapy techniques it could aggravate the injury. So, I wouldn’t say no, and I wouldn’t say yes, as of course it always depends on the individual and the level of the injury. It’s really good practice that if you do have an injury to talk to the instructor of whatever class you are doing and let them know. I always ask at the start of Barre if anyone is suffering from any injuries, or even pregnant! I’ve had people recovering from all sorts of injuries, and have had feedback in the past that it’s been a significant help to their recovery, whilst I keep a close eye on them in the class. We just take it down a notch, and I make sure (like everyone else) they are doing things correctly.
Finally, why do you think dancers will love your class?
Because they’re fun, energetic, beneficial and I have a thing for making a pretty special playlist. It’s a great way to “work out” but not feel like you are!