By Christine Binnendyk
Pilates and dance conditioning have a long history, and they make for a highly effective combination. Joseph Pilates himself was well-known for working with many prominent dancers during his lifetime. I’d heard the buzz about barre-style workouts such as Lotte Berk, Fluidity, and Bar Method. I had even tried out a few videos. But it wasn’t until I ran across Barre3, the Portland, Oregon, based studio with the tagline, “Where ballet barre meets yoga and Pilates,” that it hit me: Dance conditioning can be a breath of fresh air for Pilates studios, to draw new clients and keep existing ones coming back for more.
Mt. Pleasant Pilates studio owner Nicole Wallen launched a program called Body By Barre just over a year ago. “It’s been a great success,” she says, and the ticket to bringing in new clientele. She offers four different flavors of barre class—Barre Essential, Raise the Barre, Barre Fusion, and Re-Barre— along with Reformer and Tower classes at her Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, studio. The class options cover varying levels of body conditioning, with some offering a mix of Pilates mat and barre work, and some focusing entirely on barre moves.
Meg Zirm teaches Barre Belles, a combination of fitness, dance and Pilates principles in a high-energy 90 minute class at The Studio in Margate, New Jersey. It has a strong following, and has boosted the studio’s bottom line. Because no leotards or pointe shoes are necessary, dancers feel no pressure and newbies are comfortable in a mixed level class, Zirm says.
Avenue Pilates in Delray Beach, Florida, calls the Xtend workout amazing, one of the best decisions they’ve made for their studio. They license their program from Xtend, and receive video and online support for their trainers. “The clients love the workout and they are getting fantastic results,” says studio owner Jean Magrella.
Barre Exercises to Try
Here are a few moves to try on your own, adapted from the Bar Method Accelerated Workout.
Thigh Work: Stand near a barre or a sturdy piece of furniture that you can hold onto, with legs parallel and hipbone-width apart. Raise your heels up; bend your knees, lowering the hips about 12 inches. Your hips should float over your heels. Now comes the fun part. For the next 60 to 120 seconds, lower and lift your body one to two inches in tiny, pulsing movements. Just as in Pilates, momentum is not your friend. Don’t bounce, stay in control of the movement, as this will focus the work into your thighs. You’ll feel this move intensely working your thigh within five pulses. Thigh Work offers almost infinite variations: Pilates V, wide parallel, Wide Pilates V, and one-legged are common in barre classes.
Pilates trainers will find that cueing comes naturally during a move like this. Your “scoop” and “lengthen” terminology will help keep clients balanced, and body alignment cues will keep them comfortable while working the lower body.
Fold-Over Seat: Stand in parallel; hinge at the hips to grasp the barre, arms fully extended. Keep your spine long as you float one leg behind you; your goal is a leg that’s parallel to the floor. Movement A) With a straight leg, pulse your heel toward the sky in one- to two-inch movements. Continue for 60 to 120 seconds, then switch legs. Movement B) keeping your thigh parallel to the floor, bend the knee, and pulse your heel toward the ceiling in one- to two-inch movements. Continue for 60 to 120 seconds, then switch legs. Again, be careful to avoid momentum and control all of your movements.
You’ll notice a theme here: small, isolated movements that exhaust a muscle group, while other muscles work to stabilize the body. You can take this system into ab work, arm work, etc.
Taking Barre to the Pilates Machines
I incorporate barre-style moves into many of my group reformer classes at the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon.
Footwork Barre Style: Using all springs, with toes connected to the bar, perform 10 full-range presses. Then press halfway out (so that the knees stay bent) and perform 10 tiny pulses without bouncing. Move on to arches, then heels, in a similar fashion. We often use a small squishy ball between the knees for added inner thigh emphasis. Too much for some clients? Those with sensitive joints can use lighter springs or dial their movements down to isometric muscle contractions.
5 x 5’s: Using one heavy and one medium spring, assume the Arabesque position with your hands on the footbar. Part 1) Hold your Arabesque position for a count of five. Part 2) Maintain your piked hip position as you pulse your lifted leg toward the ceiling five times. Part 3) Maintain your Arabesque position as you open and close the carriage five times. Part 4) Maintain your piked hip position as you tuck the extended knee in toward the chest, and back up toward the ceiling five times. Part 5) Draw the free leg forward to the footbar, and press out in a front split five times. Switch legs.
More About Barre Work
If you’re interested in learning more about barre work, Lotte Berk, Fluidity and Bar Method have all produced great videos. If you’re interested exploring licensing options, be sure to check out the licensing information available for Barre3, Xtend, Bar Method and Lotte Berk.
Christine Binnendyk is a Pilates and yoga teacher in Portland, Oregon. She trains at the Nike World Headquarters and is a Mind-Body expert for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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