Barre exercise blending ballet, yoga, Pilates gains popularity
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 6:48 AM
Where’s your favorite place for
barre exercises? Tell us.
Arriving just in time for the warm-up exercises, we unrolled our yoga mats toward the back of Rebekah Tennis' class.
She didn't use any weights, just a light, soft ball and a hand towel - piece of cake.
An hour later, our legs were a bit like jelly. Judging by the smiles and commentary from others in the class that morning at St. John Siegfried Health Club, we weren't alone.
"What did you think?" she asked at the end of class, her inaugural one for "Barre None," a bar-free version of barre exercise.
Although it's been around for decades, barre exercise - with "barre" referring to the handrail used in ballet practices - is growing in popularity and is often described as incorporating elements of ballet, Pilates, even yoga.
Tennis, a personal fitness trainer and fitness leader at the Siegfried Health Club who offers her class at 8 a.m. Thursdays, had never heard of barre until about 10 years ago at a fitness conference. She attended a session about barre exercise, but, as it was so new, she didn't pursue certification.
The fitness practice grew, and Tennis received her certification last summer in the Leslee Bender barre method, which doesn't necessitate having a ballet handrail.
Marlene Martindale started teaching barre exercise in January 2012, first teaching two classes a week to friends and family for free in a rented studio space.
Last fall, Martindale opened Sculpt Tulsa barre studio at 4329 S. Peoria Ave., where she offers about 30 classes each week.
"It's everywhere now," said Martindale, who has worked in fitness for 22 years, including 10 years as a professional trainer.
Through running and cycling, she developed back problems. Her chiropractor said some runners and cyclists develop these problems because of poor glute strength, so she looked for ways to strengthen her glutes.
Martindale started researching barre exercise, the origins of which go back to 1959 and a German ballet dancer named Lotte Berk, Martindale says on her website.
Following a back injury and rehab, Berk combined her ballet barre work with rehab exercises, a combo that proved so effective that she started teaching it to others.
Lotte's students became teachers, who spread the practice to the United States, from East Coast to West. The "Lotte Berk method," as it was called, attracted celebrities and, eventually, became "The Bar Method," with many variations now on the theme.
Martindale traveled to various studios around the country to see what it was like, from Aspen to Dallas to New York City. Then, she bought DVDs and practiced it at home with her daughter.
Four months after practicing barre exercise, her pain went away.
As not many opportunities for barre classes were available at that time, "I thought, what the heck, I could teach it."
The original concepts of the exercise are small, deep muscular movements done repetitively, working specific muscle groups to near failure, Martindale said. Special attention is paid to the legs, seat and abs, with stretching sequences interspersed throughout.
A popular misconception is that you have to be a good dancer or, at least, not be "uncoordinated," Martindale said.
"You should see me," she said she tells people, then laughed.
Don't let the ballet barre part fool you - this is an intense workout, multiple instructors said.
The "Dying Swan" exercise in Tennis' first class seemed simple enough, in theory: ball under right hip, hand on towel, slide the towel out and then back in.
Then that was followed by extending the left arm, then a leg extension with arms - not easy, hence those aforementioned jelly legs.
It's a great way of isolating the muscle groups, Tennis said. Depending on the instructor, it can also be more intense than yoga or Pilates.
After six classes in a three-week period, Martindale has enjoyed having clients tell her they've seen more positive changes than many months doing other exercise.
"It's crazy," she said.
Katie Tuttle, who loves to run, has been taking barre from Martindale since September, after she had torn her hamstrings.
"I loved it from the beginning," said Tuttle, who has noticed a "huge difference" in her body.
"I love the fact it's really, really tough," she added - sometimes, "so hard you think you'll die," she joked.
Now, she's recently returned to running, and she credits barre for faster strengthening for the trails.
Barre can also help with posture and strengthen your core, which can make you seem taller, Tennis said. It can also improve your balance, which is important as we age.
Although women can benefit, as those who wear high heels often have tight calves and weak glutes, men benefit, too. Barre exercises can help them open up the chest and build a strong core.
"Everyone can do it," Tennis said.
Local barre classes
The following fitness studios offer barre exercises. Just call the number provided to find a class that best fits your schedule.
Carbon, 3325 E. 31st St., 918-728-7447
St. John Siegfried Health Club, 1819 E. 19th St., 918-744-2484
Sculpt Tulsa, 4329 S. Peoria Ave., 918-645-3918
Total Pilates, 1135 E. 38th St., 918-744-9499
Original Print Headline: Raising the bar
Jason Ashley Wright 918-581-8483
Instructor Marlene Martindale (left) leads a barre class with Ashley Schubert, Ashley Bourne and Heather Hale at Sculpt Tulsa Barre Studio. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Instructor Marlene Martindale (front) leads a barre class. Barre exercise, which utilizes the handrail used in ballet practices, is growing in popularity. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World