clock menu more-arrow no yes
Courtesy of Physique 57

Filed under:

I Scouted NYC Barre Classes in Search of Real Dance Moves

If your top drawer is stuffed with sticky socks, you have ballet slippers floating around in your day bag, and you are constantly trying to get away with off-the-shoulder athleisure as night attire, then we are kindred spirits. Dance classes and culture have been a major part of my life since I was a kid. You can see it in the way I walk and dress and how I obsessively gravitate toward any room with wood floors and mirrors.


Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Dance technique and its body-positive results were once only available by enrolling at a dance studio, but similar strengthening and lengthening exercises are now offered in barre classes. However, "barre class" can sound funny to those who have actually danced —€” just because there is a wooden barre to hold onto doesn't mean my body will endure the same rigorous movements as it would in a ballet class.

So I set out to find the NYC studios that teach those specific exercises to help to create longer and leaner muscles and a strong core, and improve flexibility, and balance (and a nice gluteus maximus, too). While all of the classes that I tried are challenging and beneficial to the body, I looked for those elements that reminded me most of my dance training. Whether dance makes you cringe or your motto is #danceislife, here's the scoop to help you find the class that fits your needs.

barre

Courtesy of Exhale Spa

Core Fusion Barre at Exhale Spa

Many of us may be too young to be familiar with the name Lotte Berk, but for those barre addicts out there, it's an important one to know. Berk was a ballet dancer who eventually founded her own exercise method that focused on core stability. Some of her former students eventually branched off and started their own technique — the founders of Exhale Spa and Core Fusion included.

This is more of a full-body workout than just traditional barre exercises, so be prepared for light free weight work, planks, pushups, squat movements, and ab training. There are some ballet-inspired moves: turned out leg lifts and arabesque at the barre (straight leg extended, behind you), heel lifts (relevé), a focus on posture, and a few traditional ballet stretches.

I would say this has more of circuit training feel than anything else. Bonus: The option of getting a massage or facial at a top-notch spa right after class.

Physique 57

This class may have the most Lotte Berk influence of the bunch, considering the two co-founders were devoted teachers and fans of the technique. This class is arguably the most challenging workout of the group, and you will see some similarities between this and Core Fusion.

Physique 57 has become a cult classic in the city among the fit crowd, and for good reason — making it through a class will elevate your self-esteem a few notches. The weight options are heavier, there's more cardio, and the thigh and abs portion are killer. Prepare to squat and squeeze a ball between your legs until they shake. The dance technique incorporated is also comparable to Core Fusion, but I did feel like I was on my toes and pulsing in attitude position more often. Also, most of the instructors are current or former dancers.

The downside? This class follows a similar script every time. However, I'm not sure that matters, since the technique seems results-oriented.

pop-physique

Sean Gomes

Pop Physique

At first glance, I was a bit skeptical of Pop Physique. The studio's cool factor is high with its own line of pre-worn ballet-inspired attire, dance-print wallpaper, and Barbie-esque weights. But don't let that fool you — my instructor was a down-to-earth former dancer who was attentive and challenging, and the class was no joke (those weights get really heavy after a while).

While the overall workout is less strenuous than Physique 57 and Core Fusion, there are more ballet exercises incorporated, including working in second and fourth positions, pulsing in attitude and arabesque, demi pliés, grand battements, and a ton of relevé positions. For those who don't speak dance, this just means you will be working your calves, ankles, and butt, and lengthening your leg muscles as you would in a traditional ballet setting. There is also some ab work at the end of class.

I didn't leave sweaty and exhausted, but I definitely felt stronger and toned — and I think I may need to splurge on that pink top with the holes in it.

Xtend Barre

Unfortunately, this gem of a studio only has one location in Brooklyn so far, but for those looking for ballet moves set to an aerobic pace, it may be worth the trip from wherever you are. I was surprised to see ballet jumps right at the start of class. Xtend Barre instructors, who have Pilates and dance backgrounds, also use ballet terminology like passé and battement. These movements are explained for those who don't know the lingo.

There were plenty of pliés and various leg lifts and a lot of work done on your toes. Floor work also involves Pilates' techniques like teaser. And the cool-down portion incorporated yoga moves as well. I do think some of the ballet exercises occurred at a quick pace, which may not be easy to execute until you have gotten the correct alignment down.

Overall, this seems like a great workout in a less cult-like environment, if that's what you're after.

pure-barre

Alex Ulreich

Pure Barre

On the other end of the spectrum is Pure Barre, a studio with such hardcore devotees that there are "trophy barres" to sign in the lobby once students reach the 250- and 500-class marks. That intensity also describes the workout, which features fast-paced music and choreography.

There's a lot of back and forth between the barre and the floor from the start of the class, which may not be for everyone. But I did appreciate the consistent reminders to "lift, squeeze, hold." The technique focuses on those smaller muscles that we rarely use, and, when worked, can help to achieve a greater fitness level. In terms of dance technique, there is some turn out, relevé, and plié work going on, but you will be on the floor squeezing and crunching as much as you're at the barre.

This class is less for the person looking for classic, isolated barre or ballet exercises and more for those wanting to burn calories in a modernized boot-camp environment.

Barre3

The Barre3 technique got its name based off incorporating three elements: ballet, Pilates and yoga. And that seems to be working for them. While other barre classes start with arm work using free weights, this class jumps right into heel lifts in a squatting second position and flat back work at the barre. There's a ton of pulsing and balance challenges, which is similar to any a ballet class. And you can look forward to some yoga moves like downward dogs with leg lifts toward the end.

This is not the class where you are going to get your heart rate up tremendously, but I think it's a technique that delivers what it promises. The cheery, former Rockette dancer and instructor had me at "find your inner dancer."

barre

Courtesy of The Bar Method

The Bar Method

I had to do a double take during this workout — am I in a dance class right now? 
Without question, The Bar Method technique is the most similar to an actual ballet barre class. You won't leave sweaty or with your heart racing (if that's what you're looking for, 
see above). But the precise sculpting and attention to detail going on here is 
impressive.

You'll be at the barre the majority of the class, and when you do land on 
the floor for center work, you will continue the lengthening process with Pilates and 
other related exercises. Work at the barre consists of slower, more calculated movements: balancing in relevé, plié positions, pulsing squats while still on your toes, isolated leg lifts, and full-on first position movements. The instructor constantly walks around making alignment and technique corrections, which is what you can expect in a ballet class.

Plan to add some cardio to your repertoire elsewhere, but for classic barre and dance technique enthusiasts, this is your class.