No one told me when I volunteered to review barre fitness that I would end up in the centre of a capacity class, flailing my arms and legs and doing my best to look graceful, fit and unflappable.
I was asked before my class at the Stone’s Corner Xtend Barre studio if I had any previous dance or pilates experience. Sure I had, I was the lead in my ballet recital when I was seven. I was sure it would be just like riding a bike – jump back on that barre.
But after the first ten minutes of class, I really wished that they had just “put Baby in the corner”. Studio owner and knock-out former Moulin Rouge and Lido dancer Shay Stafford was not lying when she said the class was “hardcore”.
Don’t let my lack of coordination and fitness discourage you though, because after 15 minutes I found my rhythm and was hooked. In fact, I was so focussed on the instructions and tuned into my core and breathing that I had to ask if there had been music playing during the class. Apparently there was, and it wasn’t classical ballet stuff either. Expect all things upbeat, high-energy and contemporary in these classes. Oh, and you can leave your tutu at home as well.
As Shay promised, Xtend Barre was pilates and dance amplified. There were technical ballet terms being thrown around – “arms in fifth”, “plie”, “releve” – but if you have no idea what they mean it really doesn’t matter. Just know that by doing them, you are on your way to building your svelte dancer’s body. “The beauty of Xtend Barre is that it is a bang for your buck workout. It’s 55 minutes with everything we love about pilates and ballet blended, and the heart rate is elevated too,” Shay says.
After some initial stretching and warmups with light(ish) weights added for some extra burn, it was over to the barre. As if I wasn’t already feeling every muscle in my body groaning awake, the barre made sure I knew I had glutes for the next few days. This is what I loved most about the class, you could actually feel it working, tightening and toning all the notoriously jiggly spots and forcing you to correct your posture while you’re at it. There was nothing unachievable set for the barre work, just you working against your own body weight with the option to amp things up with higher intensity positions. We also did some work with resistance bands, and you should know that squeezing a ball between your thighs is surprisingly gruelling. I was almost fooled a few times into thinking each of the exercises was quite simple, until I repeated them enough that my legs were shaking like a newborn foal, I was sweating and the urge to scream at the instructor to speed-up that count-down was strong.
After the barre, it was onto our yoga mats for some last minute strength training – think push ups, bridges, crunches. It was clear by the end of my 55 minutes that barre fitness was a complete body workout as I was feeling completely exhausted. The benefits were numerous – improved posture, core strength, flexibility, coordination, body awareness, toned muscles and better cardio fitness. And if I can check all of those off the list after only one class, Shay assured me that with just a few classes a week, a longer, leaner physique was achievable. “You truly can move and feel like a dancer… and it’s fun. Many ladies say they see results in just two weeks. If your goal is to have a strong and toned dancer’s physique with excellent posture and grace then [Xtend Barre] is definitely enough.”
Aside from the obvious health and fitness benefits, I will continue to rave about the diversity of women who were in my Xtend Barre class. There were ladies in their teens, 30s, 40s, even 50s looking fantastic in their workout gear and tailoring their workout to their abilities. It was obvious a few had previous ballet training, but without malice I can also attest that there were some with no obvious background in dance.
I can’t say that after one class I will be rocking up to audition with the Victoria’s Secret Angels (who apparently love their barre fitness), but I certainly left class more aware of my body and walking with a little more poise. As a working mum, my time is precious. Barre fitness was definitely the best workout I have found for those in my boat who need to be able to squeeze in a high-intensity workout and know that they are getting their money and time’s worth.
So whether you’re looking for more diversity, a greater challenge, or just some fun and fitness I can now personally recommend a session at the barre – even to flailers like me.
Meet Your Instructor:
Name: Shay Stafford
From: Tarragindi, QLD
Where you’ve seen her: On the stages of the Moulin Rouge, the Lido and her own stage show, Memoirs of a Showgirl (an adaptation of her best selling novel by the same name).
Star clients: Sarah Murdoch
Shay on barre fitness: After baby number two and retiring from a professional dance career, I needed something to get me moving again. I was training to become a Pilates instructor because I loved the precision of Pilates. An old Moulin Rouge colleague of mine was living in the States and had discovered Xtend Barre. She brought the workout to Australia and started recruiting ex-dancers to teach it…with one class I was hooked as it combined my love of dance and Pilates with high energy and results to boot!