As a child, I was obsessed with gymnastics. Week in, week out my wonderfully generous parents would drive me all over the country to take part in competitions, aware that I would only return home a rational, compliant child if I did so with a gold medal around my neck.
And after hanging up my leotard I moved onto dance. Contemporary, jazz, ballet, street…you name it, I did it. And dance very nearly became my career, that is until I realised I did not have the dedication to train every hour under the sun and that, actually, I would quite like the odd glass of wine down the pub with my friends on a Saturday night.
So imagine my delight when, all these years later, I was invited to try out a new ballet-focused workout class.
BARREtoned is a targeted, full body workout centred around the ballet barre, which aims to improve posture and tone the muscles in the body. This, I say to myself, is going to be a walk in the park.
My colleague Katie and I misjudge the journey time from Oxford Street to Notting Hill, so we have already done a frantic five minute run before we even arrive at the BARREtoned studios. Catching our breaths we change in a hurry, warned upon arrival that tardiness is not tolerated in this class.
Beginning with a ‘gentle’ warm-up, I very quickly come to realise two things. The first is that Katie and I should prepare to feel a lot like the naughty kids in the class. (Incorrect posture and inadequate stretching is quickly highlighted both verbally and by hoisting the offender (gently, of course) into the correct position). Oh dear. The second is that I should never have forgotten the one thing that all former gymnasts come to learn. That is, as soon as you stop voluntarily contorting your body into unknown positions and somersaulting backwards through the air, your muscles actually decide to seize up, while your bones, meanwhile, ache, crack, crunch and groan on a daily basis. Oh, and you are completely and utterly unable to even touch your toes. Damn.
Midway through the warm-up, Katie and I are balanced with one leg on the ground and one leg ‘delicately’ placed on the ballet barre (not as easy as it sounds when your body is best likened to that of an 85 year old woman). And, as if holding this very nearly impossible position was not enough of a challenge, we are then asked to stretch towards the bar and repeat the movement until the weaker members of the group (me) can do no more.
Throughout the class we move through exercises which focus on our legs, arms and stomachs. Most movements and stretches are gentle, repetitive and relatively straight forward, but nonetheless they work the entire body.
The most difficult element of the class? Being told to flex my feet. It seems there are some aspects of being a gymnast that don’t disappear with age, and the ability to point the toe like an overly enthusiastic nine year old in velvet is one of them. Flex my feet? But that makes them look ugly. And it’s hard. Ever so hard.
One of the greatest things about this class, though, is the encouragement you are given from the teachers. Despite instructing a class of around 15, the teachers learn each of our names in seconds and actively support and encourage all of us. We are individually told how to improve and continually helped and manoeuvred into the correct positions to make our bodies work as hard as possible. Good commitment and perseverance is applauded (“Good challenge Sarah”), which – not unlike that feeling you got at school when you were congratulated by your teacher for finishing top of the class – should have been hugely patronising but secretly made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
By the end of the session I am aching slightly but largely because of my arthritic hips and old lady legs. I understand how, if you are prepared to stick with it, this class is one that will probably help you on your way towards achieving a body to rival Gwyneth Paltrow’s. For ladies of leisure, BARREtoned is the bomb. Now, all I need to do is find the time to dedicate to the cause…..
Our verdict: A great, calming workout, which over time would no doubt help to tone the entire body. But what really makes BARREtoned great is the team behind its inception; they are knowledgeable, approachable and VERY fit…what more of an incentive do you need to get pirouetting?!
Our score: 8/10
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