It can be difficult to describe barre to someone who has never tried the workout before. Not only is it hard to articulate what we do in class, there are also many misconceptions about the exercises and who should come to a class. I’ve often heard people say “Oh, I’m not a dancer!” or “I don’t believe in lifting light weights!” I have heard so many new participants say, after class, that the workout was nothing like what they expected….making me think they may have expected it to be a) easy, b) like a Classical ballet class, or c) all about stretching.
Maybe we should start describing barre as “the workout you never expected” LOL!
Let’s start with some of the main benefits of barre workouts:
- Improved Posture
- Better Balance
- Stronger Core
- More Mobility and Flexibility
- Connecting mind to movement
- Enhanced Memory
While I’ve noticed many of the benefits anecdotally in my own body and in my participants, these are also backed up by research. We know that movements that are used in barre such as moving the weight from one leg to the other or rising up on the toes (releves) improves balance by strengthening our stabilizer muscles. Throughout the class, instructors encourage students to be aware of their posture with a long spine, relaxed shoulders and engaged core.
Barre also includes many exercises and movement patterns that strengthen and lengthen muscles. As an example, one of the props used in many barre workouts is the core/Bender ball. This prop allows us to intensify moves such as crunches and also can be used as a tool to intensify a chest opener stretch by placing the ball between the shoulder blades in a reclined position. The combination of strength and flexibility makes for a feel-good workout that helps to balance and fill in the gaps of many other exercise classes that participants may be doing.
There is also a focus on how our bodies feel and move during dance-inspired fitness like barre. We can be so removed from our senses and I think this has been made worse through COVID. We are out of touch with the senses of touch, being separated from loved ones and even strangers for such a long stretch of time. Dance is inherently mindful, making it a way to reengage with the senses: “What makes dancing so special is the active involvement of the each of our senses.” (p. 110 in Julia Christensen & Dong-Seon Chang’s Dancing is the Best Medicine).
A Spanish study in 2016 looked at the effect of dance on undergraduate women and notes: “the social and expressive components of dance practice, as well as its benefits in terms of body image, may be factors in the perception that dance practice is an engaging and enjoyable activity.” In other words, participants are focused on the feel and flow of the movements and less on how their body looks.
Memory and cognition is an exciting area of dance research and it is expanding every year. Learning and moving in complex choreography patterns exercises our brain, improving memory and boosting awareness. Research has been done on memory in the elderly and even in primary school children. One recent article found that “learning dance choreography with a high-cognitive challenge promoted the development of working memory capacity and motor competence in primary school children.” The benefits of challenging ourselves and learning new things are indisputable!
Why I truly love barre is a more emotional answer. I began taking ballet lessons as a very little girl at the Church around the corner from our house. So many of those memories are still fresh in my mind…the excitement of costumes (this was one of my absolute favourites!), being backstage, and getting my first pair of beautiful pointe shoes. I was never great at sports or phys-ed class, but dance was a way of moving that felt natural and fun.
When I left dance in high school I struggled with exercise for a while, joining the gymnastics team but not really moving my body well or consistently. It was not until my older sister took me to Fitness Alive, a local women’s gym, that I had so much fun with exercise again in step and high-low aerobics! After university I certified to teach fitness and found that group fitness really appealed to women who had a dance background.
When barre classes came on the scene, it was as though all the pieces fell into place for me. Barre reactivated all of my dance training and re-inspired my love for teaching group fitness. I knew this format would appeal to those who had danced during their youth AND make dance fitness accessible to a whole new group of people who had never danced before.
Barre transformed my body and made me reconnect with the beauty and grace of moves like pliés and arabesques. After years of doing just cardio and strength routines, it was so lovely to add back in mindful movement and a class that left me feeling strong and graceful!
So for these reasons and many more, I strongly encourage everyone to give barre a try – men and women; younger and older participants; dancers and non-dancers. It’s a class that is accessible, mindful, and fun – the barre instructors that I know are incredibly supportive and approach the class with no expectations or judgment about dance ability! Please let me know if you have any questions about barre classes and check out my Workouts Page to give one a try!
Christensen, Julia F., Dong-Seon Chang, and Katharina Rout. Dancing Is the Best Medicine : the Science of How Moving to a Beat Is Good for Body, Brain, and Soul. Trans. Katharina Rout. Vancouver ;: Greystone Books, 2021. Print.
Muro, Anna, and Natàlia Artero. “Dance Practice and Well-Being Correlates in Young Women.” Women & Health, vol. 57, no. 10, Nov. 2017, pp. 1193–203.
Noguera, Carmen et al. “Shall We Dance? Dancing Modulates Executive Functions and Spatial Memory.” International journal of environmental research and public health 17.6 (2020): 1960–.
Oppici, L., Rudd, J., Buszard, T., & Spittle, S. (2020). Efficacy of a 7-week dance (RCT) PE
curriculum with different teaching pedagogies and levels of cognitive challenge to
improve working memory capacity and motor competence in 8–10 years old
children. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 50, 101675.