Shaping Up at the Barre
By Kris Gilbertson
If you strolled by the city park at Pendleton and North Fayette Streets on a recent Saturday, you’d have witnessed rows of mostly spandex-clad women on yoga mats moving with great precision to some very good music. And probably asked yourself, what is going on here?
You witnessed the Barre & Bastille Pop-Up — Studio Barre’s free class to introduce even more Alexandrians to its very effective and popular program of barre exercises. The only thing missing was the barre.
What’s a barre?
You know, it’s the barre (or bar — the spellings seem to be interchangeable) that ballet dancers use when training. In 1959, an injured dancer in London, Lotte Berk, worked out a program of small, isometric movements to fatigue, and thereby strengthen, various muscle groups in order to heal herself.
Over time, Berk’s followers, working with physical therapists, adapted barre exercises for non-dancers. The method exploded in popularity and variety, with studios developing programs to fit their own clientele.
Studio Barre franchises are based on a class that works every muscle from head to toe, with stretch and cardio, in one hour, using the barre for balance. Studio Barre Alexandria, 610 N. Fayette Street, is owned by Angela Lutzker, a diminutive blonde whose enthusiasm for barre and her clients is contagious.
“What sets this workout apart,” she says, “is that it builds your strength quickly. It doesn’t tax the joints, it’s low impact, and it builds you up. If you’re coming three times a week, by your second week you will see lost inches, you’ll already see muscle tone throughout the body, and you’ll feel that strength in your core.
“It hits those problem areas, like behind the arms, the inner and outer thighs, the seat— those spots that women have trouble targeting,” she adds. “This workout accesses muscle groups that you can’t access with other workouts, and it even gets rid of cellulite.”
Can anybody do this?
“It’s weird to say this, but it’s true: this is a very intense, difficult workout — and anybody can do it.” She includes a large group in this: young and old, thin and not thin, pregnant, physically limited, and even men.
Lutzker says the small isometric movements aren’t hard to do; they’re hard to hold for a long time. The emphasis is on holding the poses. This is not dancing, but, says Angela, “we make it fun because we set it to upbeat music and the instructor keeps the class lively and engaging.” And fresh — clients note that workout routines change for almost every session.
Studio Barre’s youngest client is 16 and oldest is 71. Lutzker points to the value of this workout for older women because it doesn’t tax the joints. For example, work done to build up the seat area supports the lower back, strengthens the core, and stabilizes the whole body. While exercise options diminish as we age, age is no barrier to barre.
Laura Wollman has been a client for 6 months; she is the studio’s first Centurion (clients with 100+ workouts). “I always apologize for not being as strong as these other ladies,” Laura says. “I’m 68, I’m probably the oldest person at the studio [she isn’t], and I’m amazed at how strong these women are. But I do my best, and I’ve gotten stronger. After about 3, 3 ½ months, I lost 10 pounds without changing my diet, just from burning these calories.”
“In a lot of exercise places,” says Angela, “there’s a competitive vibe, but I don’t feel that people are competitive here. People are focused on themselves.”
“I never felt like anybody was looking at me,” Laura adds. “I’m a believer. Because it’s important.”
Weight, pregnancy, a new set of knees?
“I’ve had overweight women here who start out feeling they are not able to do all the moves,” says Angela. “Some of the stretches may be harder (at first) but even if you’re not holding them very long, you are building strength. Within a couple of weeks they have a dramatically different barre practice then when they started. Very quick results, and quick progress.”
Lutzker notes that another client started when she was two months pregnant and logged 98 classes, just two short of becoming a Centurion, when she had her baby. Even joint replacements are unlikely to inhibit this exercise because it strengthens muscles that support joints. “People tell me, this is what we do in physical therapy, but more fun,” says Angela. “You’ve got the music, you’ve got the community.
“I did yoga for 10 years before taking barre,” she adds. “After a month, I could hold yoga poses that I couldn’t before. And I don’t run anymore but my husband, he’s 45, did this three times a week for two weeks. He called one day and said, ‘I felt like I’m in my 30s again when I went for a run.’ You get that extra spring in your step because it strengthens your core.”
Enthusiasm and new friends
Originally from Tennessee, Lutzker moved to this area for her husband’s job. She taught art at Charles Barrett Elementary School and wanted to stay involved in Alexandria in her new venture. Angela chose N. Fayette Street for its easy access to Braddock Road, away from Old Town’s rush-hour traffic, and easy parking. People living in the many condominiums in the neighborhood can walk to the studio.
“This neighborhood has really come to life,” says Angela. “A lot of new businesses are popping up and there’s that beautiful park across the street. It’s a sense of community. Residents use that park, they have bocce ball on Thursdays, and when the weather’s nice, families come out and eat dinner there. It’s really nice.”
Studio Barre opened in April with a small group of clients that has become a continuously expanding community of believers. Even the weather couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm at the pop-up class in the park, with Bastille Brasserie & Bar (conveniently located next door) providing post-work out snacks and drinks. The Asher Apartments provided plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated. And despite blustery conditions that day, some 35 people brought yoga mats and barred in the park.*
“We want to help people in this community reach their fitness goals and enjoy themselves in the process — to have this be their happy place” says Angela. “It can be scary to try something new, but they’re going to find a welcoming place here and people who will help them and cheer them on.”
*The pop-up class was cohosted by the Braddock Metro Citizens Coalition and the City of Alexandria Department Of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities.
610 N Fayette Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Studio Barre is located at 610 N. Fayette Street, Alexandria. The phone number is 571-970-3305, and on the web, studio barre.com/Alexandria.
Studio Barre specials include:
- A drop-in class is $25 (a drop-in class is if you buy just a single class)
- A new client can try Studio Barre for one month unlimited for $99
- After the $99 month, it’s $169 for an unlimited month
- Another other option is a 20-class pack for $380
- For all packages, you get 10% off if you are in the military, a teacher, or a student
“Wear any comfortable pants, sweatpants, yoga pants, whatever comfortable clothes you exercise in now,” says Angela Lutzker. “But if you take to it, we have gear available for sale.”