Ballet as Fitness: the Barre Fad

I was flipping through the January edition of Better Homes & Gardens magazine, when I stumbled across this article…

Health nut article

It seems that ballet for fitness is catching on everywhere! In Ann Arbor over the weekend, I noticed not one but two new “barre studios” being built in town. Part of me wonders, however, how effective and how safe these fads are.

To be fair – I have never tried one of the barre-for-fitness routines, such as Pure Barre. However, I’ve been hearing a lot about them, and the number one opinion that I hear most is that they are intense with a capital “I” – sweat pouring out, full muscle exhaustion intense. They do not teach dance technique at all to my knowledge, but rather use similar types of motions to engage the muscle groups in a far more athletic and fast-paced environment. To me, this sounds like a recipe for injury – if I work at the barre until my legs are shaking, I would be concerned about losing my balance and possibly collapsing. I wonder, too, if this kind of exercise is actually beneficial to one’s dedication to fitness: if you work yourself to complete and utter exhaustion, how do you then find the energy and inspiration to continue to another day, or another class?

In formal dance training, the dancer uses barre to build skills and perfect technique in preparation for dancing en centre and combining techniques into choreography. The barre is not a weapon of choice, but a tool for supporting the body while allowing it to strengthen of its own accord through the repetition of specific exercises. Many of the exercises are slow: this reflects not only the tempo of the music (such as the adage), but also gives the dancer time to check-in with his or her body and make corrections (often by looking in the studio mirror and checking posture, alignment, foot position, arm height and position, etc). Even though our classes are not the more formal training of a studio program, they share many of the same elements: muscle development and increased fitness through technique, practice, and subtle correction.

As a key element of ballet class, barre is a time to cement the fundamentals, tone the muscles and stretch the body in preparation to dance on the floor, without the help of the barre. I really can’t imagine doing things any other way!

I’m curious to hear other participants’ thoughts on the barre exercise fad – those who have tried it out, what do you think about it?

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