As a former dancer, I started my Pure Barre class in Bethesda with an overly confident attitude. For years I had heard about the class and its elusive promise: to give you the body of a dancer without ever busting out a plié or pirouette. A dance-based program that excludes the very moves that make the art so exhausting? Pretty sure I have this.
Ten minutes into the hourlong class, after our instructor and the studio’s owner, Katie Shearin, led us through a quick full-body warmup, my arms were already straining with the effort to hold up two-pound weights to finish an upper-body sequence, as I pondered how this seemingly minuscule weight could give me so much trouble.
The answer lies in Pure Barre’s technical philosophy. Focusing on small, isometric movements rather than high-intensity cardio exercises, each class aims to strengthen four key areas of the body: thighs, abs, arms, and the seat. Each set of exercises is performed on the floor or at the barre for a considerable length of time with the hope of pushing the muscles past the point of fatigue. I still wonder how such small movements managed to be so painful, causing my legs to shake with the intensity of a Jell-O mold.
As we moved from thigh to ab to glute workouts, Katie had us use a variety of tools to help maximize every workout. A small red ball squeezed between the thighs worked both the outer muscles and the glutes, while a band helped us stretch out our aching muscles after each exercise. This strength-then-stretch routine was repeated with every body zone, a practice adapted to help create long, lean muscles.
While I felt the effect of this isometric technique during some exercises, other sections of the class—specifically the abs portion—left me lost. Fitting ourselves under the barre with our back to the wall, Katie had us grab the rail above us and perform a series of pelvis tucks and leg squeezes. I looked around the class, wondering if my tiny movements were correct. Katie informed me they were—but I failed to feel the strain that usually comes with a long set of core exercise.
Still, Pure Barre’s low-impact workout certainly showed results in some areas. Two days after my class, I still felt the strain of raising my hand for a weak high-five. Forget my earlier arrogance; I definitely, at least then, did not “have this.”
Pure Barre Bethesda. 4930 Hampden La., Bethesda; 301-642-2864. First class is $15.
Advanced Beginner Class at the Washington School of Ballet