Dallas — Over the past few years dance has seen a resurgence in its popularity, thanks in part to the success of such television series as So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and, whether you like it or not, Dance Moms, and the recent advertisements from Free People—their inaccurate portrayal of a ballet dancer caused a spike in interest for ballet and the technique that structures it—and the Under Armour piece featuring American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland.
Dance is even making a comeback in the music video realm, from Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” (2011) and Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue,” (2013) both of which were choreographed by The Royal Ballet’s Wayne McGregor, to The xx’s “Islands” (2010), that featured the English rockers surrounded by a group of dancers clad in costumes reminiscent of Sweet Charity’s “Rich Man’s Frug” and performing Fosse-esque movements, and to Son Lux’s “Pyre” (2013), in which dancer and choreographer Bennyroyce Royon and singer Ryan Lott are caked in white powder and makeup, and Royon performs a structured improvised piece. Then we have Marissa Nadler’s “Wedding” (2013) that is set inside of a dance studio and features dancer Emily Terndrup of New York’s Gallim Dance, the world’s first 24-hour music video that Pharrell released this year, Sia’s “Chandelier” (2014), that features some expressive and inventive movement from the artist herself and choreographer Ryan Heffington and is performed by 11-year-old Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms; and my new favorite music video, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (2014).
Dance, for lack of a better adjective, is cool again. And with that newfound popularity has come a whole new range of fitness related dance exercise classes. Any day of the week, you can take a fitness class that uses dance as it basis, from Pure Barre to The Bar Method to any number of yoga classes to Zumba and to Jazzercise (yes, it’s back). As movers, dancers are always looking for new ways to challenge their bodies, and to try out alternative methods of training and stay fit, so these classes are great resources. (This is true for all of us, I think. We all want to stay fit and lead healthy lives).
A friend of mine and I have decided to dedicate two Fridays out of every month to explore a new fitness trend. We started this Friday by experiencing our first Pure Barre class. We decided to not do any prior research: we just went online, signed up for a class, and followed the rules posted there, which were to wear long pants (leggings are acceptable) and to bring socks. I forgot to read the fine print where it said that they encourage you to bring socks with traction (like the type kids wear for grip, or like the house slippers that I’m sure we all have), so of course, I show up with my traditional black dancing socks that are just perfectly worn out at the balls of my feet for maximum turning potential and have to purchase a new pair of traction appropriate ones at the front desk. I have to say, those socks are comfortable and warm and worth the $10 I spent on them. But, please read the fine print so you don’t have to shell out more money than you were expecting to, and so you don’t have to fall victim to the marketing trap set up by Pure Barre that entices you with their fancy logo socks and cute clothing (seriously, they had some really cute pieces in the lobby that I was drooling over).
The class we participated in took place in a small studio with mirrored walls, equipped with ballet barres and yoga mats, and a carpeted floor—I can only assume the socks were required to that we wouldn’t slip on the carpet and to protect our feet. The instructor told us to grab a pair of weights (either two or three-pound ones), a small inflatable ball, and rubber stretching bands, to find a place in the room, and then she started class.
If you’re expecting me to describe a ballet barre where everyone is eyeing each other to see whose extension is cleaner and higher, who has an impeccable center, and who can kill it at frappés, forget about it. Pure Barre is nothing like that—expect for the eyeing part, because we were all watching each other to make sure we knew what we were doing. It is a rapid-paced though low-impact workout that references Pilates (it’s a loose reference). It’s based in small, sharp isometric movements designed to isolate and work specific muscle groups. There are a few leg exercises that are reminiscent of barre work, but really the barre is primarily used to help you remain upright when your standing leg starts to shake uncontrollably from being in a new position of alignment. It is also used as a counterweight for several exercises.
Pure Barre’s working positions are entirely parallel, mostly flexed, and with a bent knee. You think that as a modern dancer, this would have been a breeze for me, but put me at a barre and my turnout comes naturally and so do the pointed toes. I had to refocus my brain to try to meet the instructor’s expectations, and it wasn’t exactly the right fit.
Overall, after experiencing the workout for myself, here are my thoughts:
- The style and focus of the class is on pulsing, small movement contractions.
- It’s a mental workout and a physical one, since you will need to turn your brain off from going into ballet barre mode.
- Be prepared to be sore. A lot of the movement starts in a deep plié position or on forced-arched. Your pelvic floor is shifted forward a majority of the time, and for a dancer, this is a major adjustment.
- The exercises are focused on small muscle groups, and you will start to get shaky. Take breaks when you need them.
- The barre is not used as a ballet barre, more as a support so you don’t fall over, and so you can do standing push-ups. Don’t think you’re walking into barre class, dancers.
It wasn’t my favorite way to use my body, but I know many people will find it a great fitness addition for their “tool box.” It’s low-impact, there is some cardio and strength exercises, and if you maintain your attendance in class, you will start to see your body becoming sculpted in new ways.
On our list of trends and group fitness classes to try are:
- The Bar Method
- BEYOND Pedaling
- Gaia Flow Yoga
- American Power Yoga
- Uptown Yoga
- Flywheel Sports
- Orangetheory Fitness
- Core Power Yoga
If you have any other suggestions, comment below and we’ll try them out!
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
Previous columns are: