Dallas — Last month, I set a goal for myself to spread my wings and try some alternatives to a traditional dance class. My first foray was to a Pure Barre studio; my second was to The Bar Method. While I didn’t have the best time at Pure Barre, my experience with The Bar Method was a better fit, and I think a lot of that comes from the technique it is based in (and the fact that it was created by a dancer).
The Bar Method founder Burr Leonard based the exercises and structure of the program on the technique of Lotte Berk, a German dancer. Leonard studied and taught Berk’s method for nearly 20 years before breaking away to start her school of movement.
Just a small history lesson here: Berk, fled Germany and the Nazis in the late 1930s, and settled in London. After injuring her back, she had the idea to combine her ballet barre routines with her rehabilitative therapy sessions as a form of exercise. The Bar Method’s routine and exercises have been tweaked over time, but they are based on Berk’s original concept.
The focus of The Bar Method is on your shoulders, backs, hips, and knees, with a goal toward improving alignment and posture. To achieve that goal, the exercises taught in the class, work to isolate and reshape key muscles that are actively involved in changing your body’s shape. Get ready for challenging, fast-paced, aerobic exercises. A hallmark of The Bar Method is pushing your muscles to the point of exhaustion, because once there, you can actually begin to shape and stretch them. The Bar Method is named for the ballet barres it uses during classes, and while it borrows the subtle, targeted exercises and extended stretching poses of ballet, Pilates, and yoga, it combines them in a unique way that turns them into more rehabilitative moves—it wants to build up the muscles around the joints that are easy to displace and separate to improve your strength.
The class I took at The Bar Method studio on Lovers Lane began with exercises that targeted the front and back sides of the body, toning while also elongating. After the warm-up, the focus shifted to fat burning aerobic exercises, and you will feel the burn! The teacher pushed us to get our muscles to shake, and it definitely happened. The exercises utilize small, intensive movements and also push you to concentrate on putting your energy into small muscle groups and the tension that creates, makes you shake, and it feels quite good.
What I really enjoyed about the class, as someone who suffers from a pinched nerve in their back, has dislocated their shoulder more than once, has dislocated their knees more than once, and is still recovering from a severely strained hip flexor (an injury I suffered almost a year and a half ago), is the fact that The Bar Method uses rehabilitative therapy as part of its foundation. The teacher paid attention to the injury sheets we filled out before the class and offered me modified exercises to alleviate any pressure and pain I might have been feeling. She was also hands-on, correcting my alignment and showing me how to properly execute the material. So if you have any injuries that affect your lower back or knees, The Bar Method has modified exercises that uses stretching straps, back support cushions, lower barres, and others that I didn’t quite get to in my first class.
But it did have some similarities to the Pure Barre class I attended:
- The class was very full; you need to make a reservation online. Don’t just drop in, because you might not get into the class.
- Most of the people in the class were women, but at The Bar Method, the age range was much wider, from women in their mid-twenties to women in their upper-fifties.
- You still need to wear socks, and the kind with the little rubber bits on the bottom so you don’t slip on the carpet.
- Wear long pants or leggings, because there is movement done on the knees.
Yet, it differed in a significant way: there was much more of a focus on explaining the exercises and showing beginners in the room how to execute them properly. If the teacher was correcting someone else, or directing the class into a new phrase work, there were plenty of more advanced students in the room who could help you out. And the instructor knew my name instantly, and that that personal connection made me feel comfortable.
Overall, I found The Bar Method class to be a lot of fun, a really good workout, and if you attend classes regularly—or combine it with a traditional dance class or another fitness program—you will see results. The overall goal is to produce a “dancer’s physique:” long, lean legs and arms, firm abs and rear and a trimmed waistline. And who doesn’t want all of those things?
» 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.
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