Behind the Barre

by Megan Westers • photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Picture a workout that combines the intensity of Pilates, the stretching and lengthening of Yoga, and the toning you get from dancing; this is Barre, a fitness spin-off from traditional ballet workouts that combining movements from all three of these tried-and-true fitness regimens.

While the classes do utilize the signature ballet barre, other accessories to the class include exercise balls, hand weights, yoga straps and a thicker, squishier version of a yoga mat. These extra tools coupled with the tiny pulsing muscle movements equals one total overall workout that focuses on every muscle group on the body.

Although Barre has only gained popularity in the past few years, the exercise has been around since 1959 when Lotte Berk started her own exercise studio in London. A former dancer who suffered from a back injury, Berk had the idea to combine her ballet training with rehabilitative therapy, creating the exercise that we know today as Barre.

Cori Williams, owner of Beer City Barre leads a group of members in one of her regular barre classes.

Now, several Barre franchises as well as local studios have popped up around West Michigan. Cori Williams owns and operates one of Grand Rapids’ newest barre studios, Beer City Barre, located at 820 Monroe Ave NW. With a degree in Exercise Science from Grand Valley State University, Williams has been teaching Barre classes since she opened her studio in September of 2016. She began practicing Barre in 2014 her sister invited her to her first class.

“I found myself at a place where I was young, single, didn’t have kids and working at a job I didn’t like,” Williams said, explaining her former job was to implement health programs within large corporations where her clients didn’t always want to get healthy.

“I just thought, why am I sitting behind a desk doing something that I hate?”

Beer City Barre instructors

“I’m an authentic person and to find something that challenges me like this just let me on fire.” –Cori Williams, Owner of Beer City Barre

What Williams found enticing about the Barre was the challenge it offered her. After seeing the results, she decided she had to come back.

“I’m an athletic person and to find something that challenges me like this just lit me on fire,” she said. “So I started going religiously and my body changed. As someone whose always been health conscious, the definition in my abs came in and my legs and I loved it.”    

After trying— and loving—Barre, she became a member at a fitness studio that allowed her to practice the innovative exercise on a frequent basis. When the studio closed, Williams was struck with inspiration to open her own.  

“I just thought, ‘Maybe this is my chance,’ and it all came together really fast,” she said.

With creating her own studio came clients who wanted a workout. Contrary to popular belief, a difficult workout doesn’t always mean a boot camp-style class with screaming and heavy lifting. By contrast, a typical Barre class is comprised of small, concentrated movements. Upbeat music kicks-off each class, beginning with a high energy warm-up, then transitioning to circuits that focus on each part of the body; arms (think tiny pushups against the bar, and curls with dumbbells), legs (pulsing squats and lunges, as well as stretches using the bar) and core (Pilates-style crunches and planks). The class ends with gentle stretching and sometimes a relaxation period, similar to the end of a Vinyasa-style yoga class.

“One of the coolest things about this studio is seeing how all of my clients have bonded and become part of each other’s lives.” –Cori Williams

Barre beginners can expect shaky and fatigued muscles. These are areas of the body that aren’t used to being exercised, and the isometric movements are forcing your muscles to tone, causing the fatigue. The range of motion with each exercise is also an adjustment —when the instructor says to move your leg up an inch, they really do only mean one inch.

Williams said that Barre works much more than just the abs and the legs and is beneficial for people on all points of the fitness scale. Her advice for newbies is to focus on form and doing the movements correctly, which according to her, other classmates can help you with.

“One of the coolest things about this studio is seeing how all of my clients have bonded and become part of each other’s lives. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, especially to new people. That’s been the best part for me. There’s lots of stress, but the most rewarding part has been this community that has just naturally come together.”



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