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What to Know Before Your First Barre Class

BY: Editors |

Few fitness classes have a backstory as intriguing as a barre class. Barre was founded by Lotte Berk, a ballerina who danced with several esteemed companies in Germany in the early 1930s. When the Nazis came into power, the Jewish dancer was forced to flee with her husband to London, where she tried out modern dance.

Legend has it that after suffering from a back injury in the 1950s, she worked with an osteopath to devise her own exercise regimen using a ballet barre for support. It eventually became a highly popular fitness program known for churning out lithe dancer-esque bodies due to its muscle-toning isometric movements.

Despite its popularity, a barre workout can be intimidating to those without a background in dance. So we spoke to Lauren Ross, a Bar Method instructor in Chicago, about why your ability to dance doesn't matter and what newcomers can expect from their first session.

What is a barre class, exactly?

Barre is a studio fitness class centered around a ballet barre, which is used as a prop for balance. The class incorporates moves from ballet, yoga, and Pilates, and builds muscle tone with isometric movements (where you hold your body still while contracting certain muscles—a plank, for instance). Dumbbells are often used, too.

These strength exercises combine with stretching to build long and lean muscles, burn calories, and increase flexibility, Lauren says. "There's a heavy focus on posture and form."

But I'm not a dancer—at all. Is barre fitness for me?

Although you may do some ballet moves, you don't need to be a dancer to take a class. Lauren never was, she started barre to help recover from a running injury. She says that people of all fitness levels and physical abilities are welcome; moves can be modified for mobility limitations, injuries, and pregnant women.

Though students will get the most out of the exercise the longer they can hold positions, "it's totally fine to take a quick break. If something doesn't feel right or is uncomfortable, always flag down the instructor," Lauren says. "They'll right your form or offer an appropriate modification."

What should I wear?

It doesn't matter whether your activewear is loose or tight, but Lauren does recommend wearing pants that go below the knee and a top that covers the midriff. That way, you'll be less likely to fidget with your clothes.

And because you take off your shoes for class, Lauren recommends wearing socks. Studios are often carpeted to protect people's feet, and you don't want to get rug burn. If class takes place on hardwood floors, you may want to grab a pair of sticky socks, which have small silicone pads on the bottom to prevent slipping. Some studios even require them, but if that's the case, they should have them for sale.

What's the vibe of a barre class? Will I cry?

Barre instructors vary in their style, but you're probably more likely to find coaches like Lauren, who describes herself as "even-keeled and down to earth," than you are to find cardio-fitness-style instructors who abuse the "Woo!" or bark out directions.

"There's a difference between intensity and aggression," Lauren explains. " … My classes are challenging, but more in choreography and the exercises we do. I try not to get too drill sergeant-y."

What's the biggest mistake new barre students make?

"Not getting there early," Lauren says. "Get there 15 minutes in advance. It's important to get acclimated to the studio. You get an introduction to what to expect and perhaps meet the instructor, so [you] feel prepared going into class. If you're rushing in two minutes before, you already feel frazzled."

Lauren makes it a priority to learn new students' names so she can call them out in class—but she's not trying to embarrass anyone. She does it to offer praise and to positively motivate people with suggestions for their poses.

What should I know before my first barre class?

"Have an open mind and be patient with yourself," Lauren advises. "There's a tendency to compare [yourself] to others in class; I try to dissuade clients from doing that." After all, your fellow classmates may have been doing this for months, but they were once in the same boat as you.

Furthermore, your instructor should make hands-on corrections, so don't worry if you don't get a position on the first try. Lauren also strongly believes students should ask questions and talk to their teachers about their goals.

She personally aims to gauge each student's skill level and flexibility so she can provide personalized insight that helps them along the path toward achieving those goals. Knowing her clients' limits "keeps [them] accountable. … We have a good sense of how far our students can push themselves and cater to them accordingly."

Is this a social activity? Will I have more fun if I bring a friend?

"The instructor always helps new clients get acclimated," Lauren says. "If you're alone, never feel that you're lost." And while she calls barre a "tight-knit community where students chitchat before and after class," once the class starts, students are too focused to talk to each other.

OK, I went to one class, but now everything hurts. Why should I go back?

"'I was sore in muscles I didn't even know I had' is a common comment," Lauren says. But "really try to stick with it after [the] first class. It can be a whole new world. … Once [you] get points of the form down, it comes more naturally."

And devotees agree that the muscle tone you get makes it all worth it.

Where are there barre classes near me?

Click here to find barre classes near you and to get a deal in the process.

This article was originally published in a slightly different form at an earlier date. It has since been updated.

Photos by Grant Walsh, Groupon

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