Exercise taps into ballet using the Barre Method

VERO BEACH – Tell someone a New Year’s resolution to sign on to a fitness program called the Barre Method, and you may not get instant pats on the back.

But a closer look at the spelling reveals a far loftier model to belly up to: the ballet barre, used for more than a century to stretch the bodies of ballerinas.  

A devoted Vero following of the intensive no-impact workout, typically available only in major cities under a different spelling – the Bar Method – it has been quietly growing in the classes of local instructor Joanna Adamson at the private fitness centers at Quail Valley and John’s Island.

Now Adamson has expanded her offering to the public, at a downtown dance studio called Artistry in Motion.

The price – $12 a class – is a fraction of the method’s classes in urban areas, that can run as high as $50 an hour for a group lesson.

Her business uses the traditional ballet term, “barre.”

Among her clients are many people familiar with the method in their hometowns in Connecticut, where Adamson used to teach, having been hired when studios were opened there as offshoots of the original in New York.

Others are former students of ballet, some of whom continue to take adult classes under Adam Schnell at Riverside Theatre.

“They like the ballet feel to it,” says Adamson.

Adamson herself never studied ballet, though the mother of two has a classic “ballet body”: lean, well-aligned, strong and extraordinarily flexible.

Witness her splits, on both sides, that she does at every class.

“I’m sort of a living example of how you can transform your body into a dancer’s physique without having been a dancer,” she says.

The woman who hired her is still in the business in a big way – Burr Leonard, in the news recently for opening her first studio in Miami.

Leonard had studied under the originator of the method, Lotte Berke, a German ballerina who had injured her back and wanted to combine ballet barre work with physical therapy.

The Lotte Berk Studio first opened 50 years ago on New York’s Upper East Side.

In the 1990s, Leonard got the license to open studios in Connecticut.

Eventually she changed the name to “The Bar Method,” opening 30 studios around the country. Typically she chose affluent urban areas where clients could afford the average cost of a group lesson – from $25 to $50 an hour.

Adamson was recruited to teach in her hometown of New Canaan.

A former tennis player at Hamilton College, she had taught English in Thailand for a year, then worked as a French translator.

Seeing the ad for trainers, she arranged for an interview “on a whim.”

Walking in a complete novice, she took one class, and was hired as part of an expansion into the tonier towns of Connecticut-Greenwich, Westport, Darien and New Canaan.

Recent press, including articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, expanded the branding further.

Hollywood celebrities lauded the system’s sculpting power, with the term “bar butt” gaining entrée into the vernacular of the other sort of bar, the singles kind.

The Bar Method increasingly incorporated yoga and Pilates moves, while studiously avoiding jarring motion that can injure joints, and retaining the muscle-shaking intensity that gets its trademark results.

“I hate jumping around and flailing,” says Adamson. “I just like precision. I feel like it makes you think more. And I’m way too impatient for yoga.”

Based in the theory of muscle lengthening along with strengthening, the technique also focuses on the body’s abdominal core, the muscles along the torso that contribute to spinal alignment, balance and posture, and in the process work to prevent back injury.

“I do breathing in this class that helps you engage your core,” she says. “There’s a noticeable difference in about three months, where you can just sort of feel yourself standing up taller, and you move more gracefully.”

The method has taken off in body-conscious circles, appealing to a younger clientele.

In Vero, Adamson says, age is not a determinant.

As proof, her mother, Ginny Taylor, a Sea Oaks resident, is signing up for the new classes downtown.

“The Bar Method in California does seem to market to the younger crowd,” says Adamson. “I think they’re missing out because this class is doable for anybody.”

Adamson recommends the method for players of golf and tennis who want to round out their general fitness and limber up for deeper strokes and swings with less risk of injury.

One of her Quail Valley clients, a man, is close to 70, she estimates, and joined to increase his flexibility.

“I get a lot of people who aren’t in shape, who are very tight,” she says. “They may come with previous injuries and may not be in my age category. But if they have an attitude that they want to become more flexible and want to be stronger, this is a workout that can last them into older age.”

By holding poses that both stretch and work muscles to the point of fatigue, the method builds stamina as well, Adamson says.

At the same, those spent muscles get an immediate stretch, elongating as they recuperate.

With the exercises coming in quick succession, the heart rate is elevated, and most break a sweat with the burn.

But the movements are small, a seemingly endless series of tiny plies done within a deeper one, for example, or a V-seat that stretches the hamstrings but includes contracting the abdominal muscles.

“You’re raising the heart rate because you’re deeply working all the major muscle groups,” she says.

Many stretches and exercises – but not all – are done while holding onto the barre.

Adamson also uses small hand weights to tone the upper body, and a yoga mat for floor exercises.

And while the workout can be grueling, Adamson encourages her clients young and old to simply stop when the burn is unbearable.

“I cheat too, sometimes,” she says.

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