POLE FUNDAMENTALS: RAISING THE BARRE
BY STEFANIE RAMSDEN DOUGHERTY
Why is it that you can spot a dancer from the moment she walks into a room? It’s probably the way she carries herself with confidence, her regal posture and graceful movements, as well as her long, lean muscles. But how closely were you paying attention? Did you also notice her high, round derriere, chiseled arms and flat abs? Beginner pole enthusiasts have surely admired these attributes in their teachers, and advanced pole artists are often on the receiving end of the admiration. The dancer’s body is coveted by everyone from housewives to rock stars to the Hollywood elite. If you’d like to get in on the secret, you might consider going right to the source: practice moving like a ballerina.
Classical and modern dancers alike warm up at the barre. This strengthening technique builds muscles from the ground up, using small, controlled movements to tone the stabilizers rather than the larger muscle groups, thus shaping the body without amassing bulk. Barre work prepares a dancer to perform leaps and turns by improving balance, speed and precision. Along the way, she develops a beautiful toned body. The barre is also used for various stretching exercises to further lengthen the legs and torso.
As a workout system, the ballet barre seems to be taking the world by storm, but it is not new. The original barre fitness method dates back to the 1950s and was developed by dancer Lotte Berk. Berk fled Nazi Germany to England, where she sustained a dance injury and worked with her orthopedist to recover and develop what eventually became known as the “Lotte Berk Method,” a combination of dance, back exercises, strength training and hatha yoga. She began teaching classes, and before long she had become a fitness guru to the body- conscious ladies of London. Berk’s protégé Lydia Bach brought the system to the US in the seventies. Since then, many of her students have formed their own variations on the method, and classes are now available – and wildly popular – in most major cities.
The system is effective and the results have not gone unnoticed. Women’s magazines are full of reports from celebrities who swear by their barre classes. For instance, Natalie Portman prepared for her role in Black Swan by working with Mary Helen Bowers using the Ballet Beautiful method, which is also the technique of choice for supermodel Helena Christensen. Kelly Ripa (have you seen her legs?) reportedly joked that she loves her Physique57 classes in Manhattan almost as much as she loves her husband, and Madonna prefers the Barre3 method, while Zooey Deschanel is a fan of Pure Barre.
Intimidated? Don’t be. No dance experience is required, nor is a tutu or dance shoes, for that matter. Students generally wear normal workout clothes and socks with treads that you can pick up at the studio. If you don’t have a class nearby, you can check out any number of instructional DVDs and practice at home. The Lotte Berk method offers a four-DVD-set for under $33, and the Barre3 Total Body Lift Workout DVD is less than $20. You won’t need to take down your pole and bolt it to the wall, either; any sturdy chair or piece of furniture will suffice to help you keep your balance in your living room. A mirror will be a big help, so you can observe your own movements, as precision is a key element for success. The Lotte Berk Method website promises that “in 10 days you’ll feel the results, in 20 days you see the results.” At the very least, you may develop improved body control and ease of movement, which can only help your pole performance. But the self-confidence you gain may be the best improvement of all. Barre none.