Barre classes have a bad reputation for being just for dancers. As an “insider” I can say that this is a myth I try to bust every barre class I teach. Some other myths that surround this method of movement include the fears of not being flexible enough, coordinated enough, graceful enough, or strong enough to partake in class. When I created my own method, Barre Variations, I made it my mission to promote inclusivity between other barre methods, and to create a community that firmly believes there is plenty of room at the barre for everybody! I want anyone that wants to learn and move with me to feel welcomed, and supported. My passion is to spread the word of why the ballet barre was utilized in the first place, and to show others how this piece of equipment can support all aspects of life.
The ballet barre was originally created for ballerinas to literally aide in holding them up while practicing ballet exercises. The ballerinas would do exercises at the barre and what they learned into the center of the room without any support. The barre is a tool to gain strength, balance, and flexibility to be used in space. It is simply a learning tool, meant to be taken a way. Without the foundation of the barre work in ballet, the dancers would not be able to gain the technique needed to perform with strength and grace on stage. All the preparation was for the final performance to showcase the technique and skills learned at the barre.
Flash forward to the 1960’s when Lotte Berk created the very first barre method. She is the inspiration and catalyst for every barre method out there today. The Lotte Berk Method was developed from her modern ballet background and she created exercises using the ballet barre and floor work. Lotte specifically said that this method was for non-dancers to be able to achieve their fitness goals, all while enjoying themselves. She brought the use of the ballet barre to mainstream fitness, utilizing it to gain the same benefits it had given to dancers for so many years. Lotte implemented exercises that uses the barre for support, and at times leveraging the barre to aid in movement. On top of that, she used her infamous wit and cheeky humor to break down the barriers that made ballet dance elitist and made it attainable for everyone. Lotte’s classes created community, gave people confidence, and inspired the students to aspire for more.
Because of where using the barre comes from, and the direct line from barre to stage for ballerinas, there is still stigma associated with barre class that it is all about performing perfectly. In a barre class there is no final performance showcasing the moves learned, so therefore it is not meant to be a place to perform “perfectly.” Focusing on the barre as a tool to use to support your movement will redirect the purpose from performance to being an aide. A large portion of a barre class is done standing, and beautifully translates to movement in everyday life. We need to walk, climb stairs, sit down, stand up, etc and barre exercises prepare the body fo these actions. However, none of these moves need to be executed to the standards of someone else, let alone the School of American Ballet.
The physical benefits of barre are one thing, but the emotional gains are greater. Barre classes offer a space to build connections, community, and a place to gain confidence. The barre lifts you up, and in turn you can lift up others. Just like other group fitness class there is a camaraderie that happens between the students, which can result in friendships. Everyone is in it together, and there is a bond created through the shared experience. I enjoy, like Lotte Berk, using humor as a teaching strategy to make everyone in the room feel welcome and at ease. I view my job as a barre instructor as a person who is there to guide the class, empower them to make the right choices for their bodies that day, and to offer a fun way to move the body. I’m there to support just as much as the barre. When I teach my method, Barre Variations, it focuses on alignment, using the barre for support, varying movements to ensure a full body workout, but most importantly inclusivity in the classroom. No matter what background, experience, or expectation we are there to move and have fun! My goal is to let anyone who wants to move with me know that there is plenty of room at the barre, and anyone who takes their place at it is welcome.
Bringing Barre Variations to Momentum Fest is a perfect place to share how this form of movement can offer support in all ways. Momentum Fest was created to fuel the mind and body through the joy of movement. It is a place that is on a mission to uplift people through empowering fitness classes. What better venue to debunk that barre is only meant for a certain type of person. This 3 day retreat supports those looking to celebrate movement and include everyone who wants to take part. I’ll be waiting for you in Denver to bust this myth, so meet me at the barre so we can raise it together!
Michelle Duvall is an expert movement teacher who finds joy in motivating others to make connections through mindful movement. Michelle holds a BFA in Dance, PMA®-CPT, 200hr Yoga certification, and trained in The Roll Model Method by Jill Miller. With her rich background in various movement styles, Michelle created Barre Variations. A manual, method, and video library with an expanded syllabus of choreography and technique. Michelle believes that there is plenty of room at the barre, and aspires to inspire others to let their inner creative barre star shine!