Raising the barre

Traditional forms of exercise for dancers
keep fitness seekers on their toes

By Angela Hurley Jorden

Celebrities are doing it. Athletes swear by the results. Pilates, barre training and yoga are effective exercise techniques that have been used by dancers for decades. The public is realizing the benefits of these exercise forms as studios pop up across the country. And it makes sense. If you want a dancer’s body, you exercise like a dancer, right? Barre training, Pilates and yoga use different techniques but have similar results, such as toned muscles, better balance and improved flexibility. These practices are now widely used to increase endurance and strength.

The barre essentials

Remember the barre you clung to during your first ballet classes? Well, the barre, that is, is the horizontal handrail dancers hold while practicing moves and techniques, is back in the incredibly popular barre training.

Barre-style workouts were inspired by classic ballet warm-up exercises, but they’ve evolved into much more to attract a wider audience. “Most of our classes have a good mix of push-ups, sit-ups and planks,” says Jessica Kilburn, owner of Pure Barre Greenwood. “We use the barre itself for support during different sections of class, but we also offer a cardio-centric class called Pure Empower, so clients can get the most of their membership.” 

Barre training focuses on lengthening and strengthening muscles while using small, isometric, low-impact movements that are driven by music.

Barre retains bragging rights when it comes to quick results. In just 10 classes, clients may start seeing the physical and mental results of this 50-minute workout. Variety is key to client commitment, too. “We are always working to provide the same great low-impact technique while changing the class to make sure we are constantly providing a challenging workout,” Kilburn says. “You will never have the same class twice.” Barre routines are combined with upbeat music to sustain the energy of the workout.

The Pure Barre clientele is diverse, says Kilburn, but they have one similarity. “The one thing we all have in common is our intentions when we walk inside those studio doors,” she says. “Everyone is there to be their best selves and support each other.” Barre classes aren’t exclusive: Even male clients and pregnant women can do the workouts. And better yet, the workouts at Pure Barre require minimal equipment; participants need sticky socks — to prevent heat from leaving your body and to allow your feet to grip the floor well — as well as water and a towel.

Pumped for Pilates

When classically trained dancer Brienne Christopher opened PurposeFit Pilates in Greenwood, she came home to her roots. After years of performing on stage, living in the limelight in Los Angeles and raising children, she desired more. “My family and I recently moved back to Indiana after living in California for 12 years,” Christopher says. “We wanted to be closer to family and give our kids the Midwest childhood we enjoyed growing up.” Christopher’s husband, actor Tyler Christopher, still works in Los Angeles on the soap opera “Days of our Lives.” After coming back to Indiana, Brienne Christopher felt unfulfilled and restless before she was inspired to open the southside studio. The name PurposeFit comes from her intention to help clients find their purpose and physically prepare for it; as a practicing Christian, it is her hope to marry faith and fitness.

Christopher firmly believes in the power of Pilates, an exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, as well. “The best part of Pilates is the way it transforms people’s bodies,” she says. “You get the benefit of resistance training. We are always working the muscles in a lengthened state, which creates long and lean ‘dancer bodies.’”

As with many studio exercise routines, Pilates is subject to fallacies about its clientele. Christopher knows better. “The biggest misconception is that ‘Pilates is for girls,’” she says. “My husband is an avid CrossFitter who uses Pilates to work on his core and maintain flexibility. In fact, most major professional sports teams use Pilates to keep their athletes in top shape and prevent injury.” For example, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta are big proponents of Pilates; Arrieta credits Pilates for his successful pitching season in 2015, with benefits including improved balance and mental and physical toughness.

Although most of PurposeFit’s clientele hails from Greenwood, Center Grove and Bargersville, Christopher streams a live fitness ministry class worldwide, three days a week. The location also serves as a school, offering teacher training and certification for barre and Pilates.

The mind-body connection

Yoga classes today focus more on connecting mind, body and spirit, with a concentration on body awareness, breathing and stretching to create balance within the body. Like Pilates, yoga is widely used by professionals who rely on physical strength to succeed. “The physical practice of yoga is a great way to get in tune with your body,” says Jeremiah Elliott Jr., yoga instructor at BodySpace Yoga & Wellness in Fountain Square. “Many athletes, dancers included, use yoga to better understand their bodies. When you understand your body, you know your limits. You know where the edge is and when to push the edge and when to carefully approach it.”

One meaning of yoga in Sanskrit is “union,” marking the synchronization of body, mind and spirit. Unlike Pilates and barre training, it includes many mental and spiritual practices that complement the physical ones. Elliott iterates its complete approach. “People like yoga because of the variety of classes available. You can take a restorative class that focuses on deep relaxation or a yin class that focuses on deep release of muscle connective tissues.” And the clientele is as varied as the offerings. “The practice of yoga is for everyone,” says Elliott. “We have students who are athletes and students who are office professionals that use yoga to help de-stress and unwind from their work.”

BodySpace’s origin story is similar to those of PurposeFit and Pure Barre. Owner Olivia Openshaw was involved in gymnastics and competitive dance as a young woman and performed several times as a ballerina. After a bout with body image distortion, she discovered yoga and used it to reconnect with her body. She fell in love with the Indianapolis area of Fountain Square, but noticed a lack of workout space or anywhere to be physically active. The studio opened in early 2016 to a strong reception from locals. BodySpace offers yoga, but it’s all about wellness and being physical. Barre classes, kickboxing and Pilates are part of the studio, hence the name BodySpace. “Our studio is welcoming to anybody,” Elliott says. “BodySpace was created in an act of love for the community.”