After trying my hand at bootcamps, pilates, and meditative yoga, I’ve been eager to learn about the Barre technique that is responsible for the grace and poise of so many incredible dancers, not to mention their killer bodies.
By Callie McBride
As I wake up and roll out of bed this morning, feeling stiff as a board and sorer than ever, I’m taking a mental note not to listen to the ambitious side of myself that thinks I can transform into a prima ballerina over night. Rewind 24 hours and I’m walking through the door of a professional dancer’s home awaiting a brutal barre workout. It all began last weekend when I watched a re-run of the beloved dancer film Step Up, starring my favorite vegan couple Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. The movie portrays two teens who fall in love over an unexpected union of hip hop and ballet. Inspired as I was, (and pitifully naive to what it takes to really be a dancer) my sights were soon set on taking a basic ballet class. Unfortunately, my hometown of Milwaukee isn’t as accomodating as I would hope: most studios are either members-only, far too expensive, or geared toward advanced dancers. Luckily, I have a family friend who dances in New York City and has an extensive background in modern, ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary styles of dance. That should be sufficient, right?…
My wonderful teacher is in the process of becoming certified as a private, in-home teacher to, ahem, aspiring dancers like myself…so we decided on a trial session at her place. Upon arrival, she told me that I would be learning a series of basic ballet barre infused with the Horton and Graham technique. These styles of dance are focused strictly on the inner core and pelvic movement aligned with one’s body. I quickly learned that the way to get those sought-after sculpted quads and defined abs are through hundreds of reps of tiny motions that exhaust the muscle and ultimately change body composition. Key word being exhaust…I slept like a baby that night. One move in particular that I attempted was the “Degage”; French for “disengage”, you must keep your hips firmly planted on the ground, keep one completely straightened leg stationary and lift the other rotated leg up and down for what is pretty much an eternity.
It is so much harder than it seems to keep your hips even and on the ground when doing leg work; I unconsciously tilted to the side of my body that wasn’t performing the movement as a way to make it easier, but I was instantly corrected by my teacher. Just like in running, yoga, and other forms of exercise, there are tons of things to keep in mind when performing just one single move: even breath, engaged core, straight legs, planted hips, the list goes on. Another move that I was more familiar with was the leg lift; its equally popular in ballet and pilates, working the inner rotators and outer thigh muscles.
As with all of the exercises that I do, I try to find some sort of mental component to go along, in order to maximize the experience; for instance, I consider running to be free therapy. Instead of silently pounding the pavement, I choose to run outside and to think about everything that’s going on in my life. Of course, yoga is the opposite-it’s my spiritual time to clear my mind of everything and focus on my breathing and the connection of mind, body, and soul. I asked my teacher what could be said of ballet or barre routines, specifically a mindset that helps to enhance the meaning, so to say. She responded that, while dancing, the mind is often focused on perfecting the form and ensuring the proper movement. At the same time, however, her mind is entirely consumed with the performance and she solely thinks of how what she is doing is a true form of expression. I love her response, but since I am no professional, I thought of what could work for me. What I came up with was a feeling of confidence. To take a risk like that and learn something new is often associated with fear or self-doubt. But to do it anyway, to put a silly grin on my face, be able to laugh of myself, and to dive head first into a foreign thing such as ballet is actually a reflection of my self-assurance.
If you feel at all inspired by my logic, I urge you do follow suit and try a new form of exercise that intimidates you; you’ll not only feel wonderfully sore afterward, but you’ll feel accomplished and proud. And chances are, you’ll get to end in child’s pose! To me, that’s worth the whole 45 minutes of intense core work. As for ballet barre, I think I’ll stick to watching it on the big screen, sprawled out on my couch, peanut butter banana soft serve in hand.