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Barre Up!

In Do, May 2020 by Tracy JonesLeave a Comment

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Writer Tracy Jones test drives barre class—virtually.

In a world of gym closures and lockdowns, unless I run outside (six feet away from everyone else, of course), I don’t have the option to take any class that’s not virtual. So, I took this opportunity to move in a way I knew wouldn’t be graceful; when better to try something awkward than now, with no one watching? I’ve never streamed a workout but I have grooved to a few exercise DVDs—Billy Blanks, P90x and a video for pregnancy yoga to ease the discomfort of carrying a bowling ball in my abdomen. 

But the coronavirus shutdown made the decision for me: I decided to test out barre. 

Barre, for those unfamiliar, is a class usually done in a studio setting with a ballet barre and movements similar to practicing ballet itself. There is a lot of balance, muscle pulsing and, often, inspiration drawn from pilates or yoga. This particular class, hosted by Barre-Up Raleigh, was an express class where pilates met barre in the comfort of my garage, streamed via Zoom.

Now, there are things I know about myself when it comes to a virtual exercise class and they aren’t great. First of all, I cheat. If I get winded, I take a break, sometimes pausing the video or letting it go on without me. If I don’t like the exercise, I skip it or modify it to make it easier. I’ve also been known to fast-forward.

Secondly, I tend to not give it my all. In a physical class, there’s pressure. The instructor watches you and you don’t want to look bad in front of everyone else who always seem to know how to do everything better than you. Without that motivation to try harder, I know I’m probably only giving the class like 60 percent.

That all said, I was taking this class for journalistic purposes, so I decided to go 100 percent, or at least try to. (Full disclosure: I did miss the warmup because I had a problem with Zoom on my laptop and had to switch to my phone—but I still took the rest of the class.)

Since this was a home workout, I didn’t have a ballet bar or weights but I improvised with my husband’s workbench and some soup cans from the pantry. I also used a kitchen towel for resistance. 

We started with subtle arm movements, isolating specific muscles in different parts of the arm. Barre incorporates small, pulsing movements, so while it may feel like you aren’t doing much, you’re actually targeting areas you might never hit in a larger workout.

My balance was soon tested with one leg lifted up in the air behind me, hands toward the floor. It wasn’t pretty and I was happy the rest of the class couldn’t see me on Zoom. I quickly realized that the “Elsa” yoga mat I had borrowed from my 3-year-old was too thick and not doing me any favors, so I switched to bare feet on the garage floor. My husband had it epoxy-coated when we moved in, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. The opposite leg worked better, though I was still shaky.

Then, we moved onto ballet, pliés and all. My calves burned something fierce but I liked the leg muscle isolation and really tried to engage my core and work on my form. I didn’t look quite like the instructor but I think I got close. 

We finished the class with crunches and oblique circles and I felt accomplished. It was one of the most low-impact classes I’ve ever taken, similar to aerial yoga but without the hanging upside down. Though not my favorite class I’ve taken so far, if you’re looking to stretch, tone and work on your core, I would suggest taking a virtual barre class. 

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