Like many little girls, I imagined being a ballerina. The flowing movements, the lithe bodies, the pink satin slippers–I saw them as a perfect mix of elegance and athleticism. I still do, but now I have a better understanding of the punishing work ballet dancers do in order to turn their bodies into one long, lean muscle.
These things were all on my mind when I went to my first barre class at a studio near my home. The class was only 45 minutes, shorter than most of the ones on the schedule. I hadn’t been to a fitness class of any kind in several years, so I had no idea how much stamina I would need for even a short class.
When I signed the waiver for the first session (free!), the instructor asked, “Have you done a barre class before?”
“No, but I’ve done barre and pilates videos at home,” I said. Which in my own head now sounds like, “No, but I’ve watched Black Swan.”
The instructor, S, made a noncommittal interested noise and said, “Well, take your time and watch for any modifications.” I appreciated her lack of judgment.
I changed into a pair of clean grippy socks available gratis for the class. The tops of the socks were made of netting and woven through with sparkly bits that caught the light. I instantly felt more elegant and began to get into my ballerina mindset, making a mental note to get my own sparkly socks if I liked the class.
Other women arrived, all of them familiar with the set-up routine. I followed their cues and tried to mimic the vibe. We each demarcated our own working space in the studio with the equipment that S had listed on the wall: weights, bands, a ball. The studio floor was completely covered in grey mats, and two of the walls were mirrored floor to ceiling. Waist-high bars bracketed three of the walls. I began to relax and stretch as a bright, energetic pop song played over the room’s speakers.
S started us with deep squats, bicep and tricep curls, flies, and shoulder blade lifts. Then we moved into isolating the leg and thigh muscles. I learned quickly that every angle of a muscle would be forced to squeeze and release, moving from larger to smaller movements requiring tighter moves and increased intensity. When S moved us to the floor for abs and back work, I breathed a sigh of relief, but this part of the workout turned out to have the longest-lasting effects. My abs were sore for days any time I laughed, coughed, or sat up.
I went home and ordered my own grippy, glittery socks that night. Since then, I’ve learned something new at every class about what my body can do and been surprised at the strength and stamina that I am capable of. I’ve learned that soreness is part of the work, and it’s inescapable if you are truly pushing yourself. Out of necessity, I’ve made it a priority to stretch throughout the day to keep my muscles from growing stiff. Going to barre class has given me an appreciation for the way that trying something new adds vibrancy and passion to everything else in my life.