Caymanian Compass: Meet me at the barre

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(Published in the Caymanian Compass, Friday, 9 August, 2013)

The last time I was at a ballet barre, I was about 6, dressed in my all-pink ballet finery: tights, leotard, tutu and ballet shoes secured with pretty pink ribbons that crisscrossed up my lower legs.

This time around, my ballet pinks have been swapped for my gym wear and I no longer have ambitions to grace the stage in Swan Lake. I’m at the ballet-inspired barre class at Anytime Fitness gym in Camana Bay and, like the other women lined up along the barre, I’m here to work my muscles to their max with the aim of achieving a long, lean, toned, dancer-like body.

Barre classes are the latest fitness craze sweeping across the US. Now they have found their way to Cayman, popping up across the island’s gyms. Celebrities including Madonna, Katie Holmes and Charlize Theron are all said to have credited their trim figures to the exercise regime.

Anytime Fitness has just launched six barre classes a week, open to both gym members and non-members alike. The one-hour class takes place in the gym’s mirrored studio, with the waist-height barre running the full length of one wall.

Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking you’ll spend the duration of the class indulging your inner ballerina.

I don’t think my muscles have ever wobbled quite so much in any class. Indeed, barre class is not for the faint of heart, or weak of muscle.

The class starts with some gentle stretching, before heading to the barre, where we pulsed up and down on tip toes until my thigh muscles burned so much I wondered whether I would actually be able to walk out of the studio. There was some mat work too, including stretches and the use of free weights to give the arms a workout, before it was back to the barre for more exercises.

Quinn McCrimmon, barre instructor at Anytime Fitness and a classically trained dancer, says it is a great class for fitness enthusiasts seeking a low impact form of exercise, or for those who want to get toned without lifting heavy weights.

“Focusing on the areas of the body women struggle with the most, barre class lifts the seat, tones the thighs and upper body, and creates the long and lean muscles of a dancer through small isometric movements centred around a ballet barre,” she explains. “Although it is an intense, athletic workout, barre is for everyone.”

While at times it could be described as almost torturous, it was indeed a thorough workout for my legs and core in particular, which I felt for days after. There’s also a strong emphasis on form, alignment and posture.

“Barre class carves muscle and burns fat by combining intense pace interval training and barre sculpting technique,” Quinn says. “Interval training which alternates between high and low intensity exercise sequences trims you down faster than straightforward aerobics because you work in short, high energy bursts that blast away calories. During the strength sets, you’ll be sculpting all your major muscle groups. During your recovery sets, you’ll be stretching and elongating the muscles you just worked.

There are a number of different barre classes on offer. Some focus more on cardio, others on creating long lean muscles and, while a ballet background will certainly help, it isn’t necessary.

“Many who used to take ballet enjoy these classes. It brings back those childhood memories of slippers and tutus,” says Quinn.

Just don’t expect to spend your time doing graceful plies.

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