What So Many Barre Classes Get Wrong

Photo by Ashley E. Smith

Whenever I introduce CABARRET to a gym or studio owner, there is a small amount of confusion. "So it's a barre class?" they ask. "Well, half of it is," I reply. "Then there's dance." "So it's a dance class?" they ask. "Well, half of it is," I reply. "But the focus of the dance is the cardio." They really don't know what to do with it.

I created CABARRET for a variety of reasons. But one was the quality of "barre classes". They're popular. People love them, and love the promise of a dancer's long, lean body. And yet, the movement has very little to do with dance. Worse still, many participants find themselves hurting their necks, shoulders, low backs, and/or knees, because the work isn't being explained and/or executed properly. 

A good barre workout should have the following elements:
1. Work the body evenly, as choreography, and every day movement do not.
1b. Recognize that the sides of the body are different. One side is likely stronger than the other, one side needs to stretch more. If all the barre work were done facing the barre, with both legs constantly doing the same work, we will never recognize those differences, or learn how to use our barre exercises to address them. 
2. Strengthen the core by requiring upright posture. It takes a lot of strength to hold your body tall and stable. While a leg or arm may be moving, often the torso, and the opposite leg or arm, are still, requiring control and strength. So many barre classes include floor work to work the abdominals. This tells me that many instructors, and therefore their students, don't recognize the necessity of abdominal strength during the ENTIRE barre! So much attention is paid to the moving limb, none is paid to body itself. We spend most of our life in the vertical and upright position. We need to learn to strengthen and use these muscles properly, and the barre is a perfect place for it. You don't need the floor work to get good ab work at the barre. And that's a Pilates instructor saying that!!!
3. Stretch as we strengthen. Almost every barre exercise includes a stretch. As the muscles tone, we keep them limber. 
4. Resistance training. Muscles work in contraction and extension. Instead of plopping into a plie or using momentum to move a leg, barre work is meant to be done with resistance and control. A plie is not simply a bend of the knees. It is a lift of the abdominals, a wrap of the inner thighs, a stretch of the hip abductors, a strengthen of the gluts. If all a barre student is doing is bending and unbending the knees, she well soon have worn joints and bulky thighs. Not the long, lean muscles or lifted posture she was hoping for!
5. And the big one-- The point of barre exercises are to get the body ready to DANCE. The barre is not an end unto itself. 
I know my Pilates training, as well as my dance experience, has really shaped CABARRET into a barre class, or dance class, or aerobics class, or whatever label it gets, like no other. I'm proud of it, and I refuse to compromise the formula, based on what people expect a "barre class" to be. I KNOW what it should be. And I promise, and deliver, results.