What I Learned From Trying A Barre Class As A Dancer


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Why would you wake up at 4:30am to take an exercise class on the first day of the fall semester? This was the question I posed to myself as I barrelled down the interstate before sunrise to catch a 5:30am barre class. 5:30am?! Yes, 5:30am. This choice was based on two reasons: one being that the trendy barre classes fascinated me as a dancer and the second being an absurb amount of enthusiasm for the semester to begin. What better way to kick off a busy school year? I had very little idea as to what I had gotten myself into.

Spoiler Alert: It Isn’t Ballet Class

I – like a lot of people, I’m sure – went into this class under the assumption that it was going to closely model a ballet barre warm-up. And so then, it would be relatively easy for me. This could not have been further from the truth. It starts from the ground up, where participants are asked to wear not ballet shoes, but sticky grip socks. Alright, sure, I thought to myself. I can dance around in socks. The class started, the instructor cranked up some energetic music to set the tone, and began a series of hand weight exercises.

Now, any dancer will tell you that while you certainly should cross train in an effort to strengthen your upper body, the majority of our strength lies in our legs and core. Therefore, I’ll spare you the details of my rather comedic-looking bicep pulses. Now speaking of pulses, this seems to be a key factor in the barre exercise method. Because let me tell you, I can hold a plié but the second you ask me to pulse for 30-seconds, I’m going to fall over.

Maybe it’s the traditionalist in me, but I did miss the lovely classical piano music that takes me all the way back to my very first ballet class as a five-year old. However, I can definitely see the need for something a little more peppy as you plank to the sunrise.

The Ballet Influence & the Barre

About 15 minutes in, I began to question why it is even called the barre exercise method, as I looked longingly toward the supportive, wooden rod – mid leg lift, I might add. Yes, there is an obvious ballet influence, with the overall elegance and poise exhibited not only by the instructor but the frequent class takers, as well. The barre is used closer to the end of the session to help with plié-influenced exercises and stretching. However, there are no jumps or turns, or even the lone arabesque. Barre is, quite frankly, is in a league of its own.

What Barre Taught Me About Myself

Barre exercise is definitely not easy, and the instructors know that all too well. So at a particularly rough point of the class, our instructor asked us not to focus on how tired we felt, but to look within for the strength required to carry on.

That early morning barre class taught me not only about my physical strength, but my mental strength as well. Nothing causes you to do some soul searching quite like feeling as though every muscle is on fire at 5:30 in the morning.

Every ounce of my “I know what I’m doing here” attitude was quickly shut down and replaced with a state of humility and the desire to attain the graceful full-bodied strength as the women twice my age exhibited. However, the overall vibe of the class was incredibly positive. There was no competition, only a spirit of encouragement and empowerment. You weren’t looking to the woman on your left to see if her point was better than yours. Each individual had a certain part of the class that she excelled at, even a complete beginner like me.

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Sarah Clifford

Sarah Clifford is a writer and theatre actress from Charlotte, NC. She is currently a 3rd year Theatre major at Seton Hall University. She enjoys travelling (she's spent the past two Summers teaching in Italy!), dancing, cooking delicious vegan food, and snuggling her Terrier, Marty.

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