Courtesy Angie Chung
Courtesy Angie Chung

My ballet barre class kicked my ass and everything else

By Hayden McBennett, July 14 2016 —

After a long day at university, the last thing I want to think about is working out. But a few weeks ago I decided to kick that habit and take a stab at one of the newer fitness trends offered in the city this summer. My destination of choice was Barre Belle — a trendy newcomer to Calgary’s expanding boutique fitness scene, located in the heart of downtown.

The reception area resembles any other spin or barre studio — clean and modern, yet somehow still edgy. Most importantly though, the place is Instagrammable for those like myself who are looking to prove they can offset a weekend of binge drinking with semi-regular bouts of physical activity.

Inside is a small selection of S’well water bottles and the kind of athletic gear that Kylie Jenner might wear to a workout. The studio is quaint and peaceful. There were only two staff present — one instructs the class while the other signs in guests. Based purely on the size of the place, any more would be overkill.

There were about 15 participants in my class. The room was painted ivory with black moulding, but otherwise resembled the dance studios from my childhood — floor-to-ceiling mirrors, big open windows and, of course, the illustrious ballet barre.

We were immediately instructed to grab two weights — ranging from 2.5-pounds to five-pounds each — and a red resistance band that initially seemed harmless. The instructor, Anna Kozicky, cheerfully instructed us that the class would begin with some light cardio and stretching.

Aware of my physical limitations in terms of strength, I had opted for the 2.5-pound weights thinking that I could at the very least follow through with anything Kozicky decided to throw at me. This was not the case.

A mix of dynamic cardio exercise left me — along with the rest of the back-row dwellers — sucking in air for dear life.

After 20 minutes of hell, Kozicky fluttered over to the bar like she had been doing this her entire life. Following her example, the rest of us hobbled over like a herd of wounded animals.

This was not the throwback to my childhood ballet class that I had anticipated. Second position, plié, down. Up, down — slowly! — hold. Pulse up. Repeat.

But then came the real horror. What was marketed as an elegant 55-minute class of exalted yoga consisted of around 15 minutes of wall sits that did not take place against a wall. A time before this I had daringly
considered my legs to be some of the stronger parts of my body. That illusion was promptly shattered.

My thighs shook like I was lifting a car to rescue a stranded child — except I was standing at a ballet barre in black asymmetrical cutouts wondering if I was really that perturbed by the idea of early onset disease.

The last portion of the class consisted of core exercises in plank position. At this point my ass had been kicked. I had checked out mentally. I was the wounded antelope of the class.

But as I spoke to my instructor, she barely seemed phased.

“I like a challenge,” she said. “A lot of other barre classes aren’t a hard sweat. So when I did this it was an instant love-slash-hate. It’s not an easy workout, but it’s not that complicated and it gives results.”

She went on to explain that, even
after having an extensive background in fitness, she found her first barre class challenging. For a moment I felt a tiny bit better. And then I felt my legs.

But overall, the class was enjoyable. The class was small enough that it felt personal. I never felt like I had been shoved into the corner of a dark, dungeon-like spin class and left to drown in my own sweat.

“A lot of people are scared of barre because they don’t have a background in dance,” said Kristi Stuart, co-owner of the studio alongside Jill Belland. “They don’t realize that it isn’t just a bunch of choreography.”

The studio offers a variety of classes. Barre X is more cardio heavy and Barre Ballet has a stricter dance approach.

But take my word for it and try the Barre Belle class first. You’ll be surprised to find how easy it is for a pair of 2.5-pound dumbbells and some pliés to kick your ass.

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