Are all barre classes the same? I think not. The ballet barre is a staple of the classical dancer. It is their primary piece of equipment for methodically and structurally slowly warming up all the muscles of the body. Professional dancers warm up even prior to the class with various modes of their favorite stretches such as sitting in center splits with legs outstretched in two opposite directions or leaning up against a sturdy wall with one leg on the floor and the other propped up onto the wall they are facing. This is commonplace for the dancer who is so overly flexible, that “pain” is not an active word in their vocabulary.
Loving everything dance based, I embraced the video that came out featuring the New York City Ballet performing their version of a barre class. It was wonderful! The one drawback was that midway through the class, I just desired to sit and “watch” them. They performed the exercises so beautifully that I was distracted from working out myself!
There was Lotte Berk Method which was a trend as well. These were classes given in a converted brownstone in New York City which had such a following, that they deliberately boasted they didn’t need to advertise. It consisted of a formulaic type class with warmup, center with weights and then to the barre for grueling leg lifts done sitting in a sort of slouched position with your back propped up against a mat while hanging from the barre with your hands. Pretty uncomfortable and if a person had any issues with their spine, maybe contra indicated. Another section of the barre had a standing “tuck ” position which could compromise weak knees.
There was Cardio Barre, Pure Barre and the Bar Method. But, having collected one of the most complete library of vintage videos
(notice, I said videos and not DVD’s ), I can honestly say, a petite Southern belle from Georgia was ahead of her time in this area. Her name was Callan Pinckney. She was a dancer in her day, who because of an injury came up with different positions at the barre to help herself recover from pain and discomfort. Her speech was a trifle affected and she wore heavy, cumbersome jewelry (at least it appeared that way since she was Snooki size in stature). She explained in soft and deliberate tones that the exercises needed to be done slowly and in reps up to 100 as the seconds would appear on the screen as they ticked away. The students in the background class were average, meaning that they did not appear to be professionals and Callan would walk by them slowly correcting them. It was surely informative if not engaging (if you could zone out the clanging of her bracelets ).
I heard that her method of barre class was being given in one of the studios located in Carnegie Hall in New York and I decided to try it. It wasn’t taught by Callan but it could have been a close relative of hers. Although several years had passed since the release of her tapes the atmosphere and decor of this studio and the teacher fully captured the video’s surroundings. I was familiar with the exercises and the so called “protocol,” but was in no way prepared when the instructor cued, “I will only say this once, and one time only, but we are working the abdominals between the anus and the vagina.” WHEW! Was that a mouthful! From the absolute nonplussed facial reaction from the class, it was my opinion that she had cued this many times before my attendance! It was almost hilarious because the comment was so incongruous to the lopsided bun coiffed upon her head.
My barre class is done with care. I believe I have taken all the best features of all the classes I have taken in all my years of experience and combined them to give a range of movements to gain sculpting and co-ordination. Remembering Callan’s softness and encouragement to all in her classes, she was a sort of classy Southern “peach” of a lady!