There’s way more to ballet-inspired exercise than pretty pink tutus and fancy French words. In fact, it has a long and surprisingly sexy history.
BARRE IS NOTHING NEW
Barre training has become wildly popular recently, but it’s far from a new phenomenon. Ballet-inspired strength and flexibility training has been a thing since the times of Louis XVI, says Ginny Wilmerding, a research professor at the University of New Mexico. Its popularity surged in the late 1950s after Russian dancer Lotte Berk injured her back and started combining her ballet bar routines with rehabilitative therapy.
She opened the Lotte Berk Method studio in London’s West End in 1959 and her barre workouts quickly attracted a celebrity following. In 1971 one of Berk’s students, Lydia Bach, brought barre to the United States, opening the Lotte Berk Method studio in New York. Since then, barre training has evolved considerably. These days the best barre workouts fuse traditional ballet with aspects of Pilates and functional strength training, making it an effective and safe way to build strong, lean and toned bodies.
BARRE HAS SOME SEXY ROOTS
The origins of barre training are remarkably sexual. In fact, back in the 1970s, barre classes were considered a radical erotic practice! “If you can’t tuck you can’t …” – well, you can guess the rest. This was the mantra of Lotte Berk, the controversial revolutionary who was instrumental in bringing ballet training to the masses.
During the sexual revolution of the 1970s, many of the world’s first barre studios were positioned as a combo of ballet, yoga, orthopedic exercise and sex. Women were encouraged to embrace the thrusting and tucking aspects and Cosmopolitan magazine even pitched it as a way to “build sexual confidence and competence”.
However, we now know that encouraging extreme “tucking” is not ideal. While ballerinas are trained to achieve the ballet aesthetic by tucking their pelvis so that the lower back looks straight, for the everyday exerciser this can lead to back pain and injury.
BARRE DOESN'T REQUIRE A BARRE
Barre training might conjure thoughts of standing gracefully at a ballet barre, but the barre is not a must. In fact, abandoning the barre can be very beneficial. Les Mills’ new barre program doesn’t involve a barre at all.
LES MILLS BARRE creator Diana Archer Mills says this makes the training more accessible for everyone. As well, she adds, without the traditional barre as assistance, the muscles supporting the body’s stability and strength become the focus. “It forces your body to do the work, targeting the core and accessory muscles more as you have to balance constantly.”
BARRE ISN'T JUST FOR THE LADIES
Personal Trainer Des Helu is a barre regular, and he loves how it strengthens his body in a totally different way. “It works muscles that are typically missed in more conventional training,” he says. “It has made me stronger, changed the shape and definition in my legs, and given me more power to jump from. It has also been awesome for my posture.” Helu also loves how LES MILLS BARRE combines cardio and strength in one powerful hit. “The cardio peak is one of my favorite parts, as you’re working really hard, but focused on movements that are really unique.” He says it’s a killer workout, and certainly not only for dancers, or women. “It takes strength and hard work to move gracefully, and it’s surprisingly athletic. Barre will change your athletic game. It has changed mine.”
IT'S A TOUGH WORKOUT
Don’t be fooled by a barre workout’s seemingly small movements. Featuring high repetitions of small range-of-motion movements, workouts such as LES MILLS BARRE pack some serious punch. The strength training and use of light weights is fused with carefully structured cardio to deliver the athletic results of true balletic training. It intense and challenging, but with options for all abilities.
This piece originally appeared on lesmills.com.