We all know of the latest craze sweeping the fitness industry. It goes by many names and you can see it advertised when passing by almost any gym in the country. It’s billed as having elements of ballet, but it really doesn’t. It’s the exercise class that has the word ‘barre’ in the title. (Which can be slightly confusing if you don’t know how to say to correctly.) It seems that ballet has now become the fitness industry’s next target. So what is the problem I hear you ask? More people knowing about ballet is surely a good thing, isn’t it? Well yes, but these classes shouldn’t be mistaken for ballet.
Everyone wants a ballet dancer’s body, right? And the best way to achieve it is to train like a ballet dancer. Unfortunately, a gym based barre class does not fit into this equation as ballet training is extremely specific. It is not only their ballet physique, but the ballet dancer’s posture and elegance in movement that is desirable. This cannot be gained in any way other than with proper ballet training. The way the movement is performed is every bit as important as what the movement is. A ballet class is structured to build strength and technique so by the end of the class you are really dancing across the studio. In a gym based barre class you hold the barre to keep your balance whilst you perform a high number of mind (and body) numbing repetitions that may or may not have some base in a ballet movement. There is nothing of the sublime artistry and tradition that have shaped ballet to what it is today.
Gym instructors can gain a qualification in a barre-based movement class with as little as one weekend of training. Good ballet teachers strive over a lifetime to appreciate how ballet steps are structured and work constantly to refine their execution. This develops strength through the body that accumulates with ongoing quality training, which is how a ballet dancer achieves and maintains their physique. The knowledge gained from a quick qualification isn’t enough to correctly work the muscles required to gain a ballet dancer’s body.
The barre, which is so freely used in the gym, is treated with respect and reverence in a ballet class. It is essentially the ballet dancer’s partner and the way a dancer uses it should reflect this. Swinging, pulling and pushing on the barre are NEVER actions that are seen in a ballet class! The dancer is learning to stand on their own legs, rather than relying on an apparatus for strength and training. This too helps create the ballet body. The barre is for guidance and support rather than used as a tool. If the barre was removed from a ballet class, the essence of ballet would still remain. If the barre was removed from a gym-based barre class, the class would need to be rebranded. Standing at the barre creates the false sense of working like a dancer to gain a dancer’s physique. Standing at a barre does not make you a dancer!
Professional ballet dancers train for years for their achievements and the way they look and move in the everyday world are by-products of this. Adults who take up adult ballet classes noticeably develop grace and fluidity of movement in as little as twelve weeks.
The benefits of exercise are life changing, and more people exercising and working towards fitness should always be celebrated. Trying to mold a centuries old art form into an exercise program for a quick fix is confusing and misleading.