What’s That Workout? Pure Barre

by Molly Reid

I kinda… maybe… shoplifted my first class at Pure Barre.

As in, didn’t get asked to pay at the end? And waited around for the receptionist to acknowledge me but she didn’t and then chatted with the teacher and then still didn’t and I’m thinking like, “Shit, this class is TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS and yeah it was hard and I’m sure effective and stuff but the teacher was totally unacceptable and may as well have been an audio cassette with an accompanying laminated poster, sooo…”

I didn’t intend for it to be this way.

I was pretty excited about trying Pure Barre, the ballet-inspired Pilates-style workout that promises to re-sculpt your whole body in the long, lean, carved-out-of-aspen image of a ballet dancer. As someone who has spent a considerable portion of her life staring in ecstasy and envy at dance documentaries and YouTube clips of Sylvie Guillem and Aurelie Dupont, I can be suckered into pretty much any ballet-related workout. I’ve taken adult beginner classes, bought ballet workout DVDs, talked to dancers I know, and I get it. I’m not going to be a professional ballet dancer. I can still be many other types of dancer at this point, but ballerina is not one of them. I GET IT, OK?

Also, though I’ve gone through a litany of exercise phases, Pilates has never floated my boat. It’s sooo booorinnng. Guh. I’ve tried ab-busting alternatives, many of which incorporate Pilates moves, and though I’ve gained strength in my core I still have a real hard time doing that balance-on-your-butt-with-your-legs-and-arms-outstretched pose. (WHY CAN’T I DO IT??? I’VE TRIED! MY ORGASMS ARE CRAZY AWESOME NOW BECAUSE OF ALL THIS AB WORK AND THE OTHER NIGHT THIS DUDE I KNOW WAS LIKE ‘DAMN GIRL YOU LOOKIN’ FIT AS THE FUCK’ AND YET I STILL CAN’T DO THIS SHITTY STUPID MOVE???)

So for someone who’s ready to take on that extra push in toning, who keeps a shred of the dream of ballet transcendence tucked away in a pointe shoe-shaped locket, Pure Barre is particularly enticing. The $25-a-class price tag made me mad at the world for a minute, but I got over it. I was ready to take on some grown-ass-lady exercise.

First things first: Bring socks! Everyone has to wear socks or dance footie things, and if you show up without anything soft with which to clad your feet, you either have to go home un-Pure Barred or pony up $12 for Pure Barre socks. The socks do come with grip-bits on the bottom, so that’s nice, but — just bring socks.

The workout is structured to be an intense, 55-minute, core-targeting blast that “works your muscles to fatigue and then stretches them out.” Sounds fun, right? Like I said, grown-ass-lady shit. Hard work. Ass-sculpting, pussy-popping rewards in store. Let’s go.

The studio I went to was long and narrow, the better to accommodate a larger merchandise area on the other side. Whatever. Hard work. Focus. All the ladies in the class, about a dozen, were seated quietly with a set of props next to them. I retrieved the props — a stretchy rope-band, a small ball and a set of dumbbells — and sat down, looking around. Everyone seemed under 35, with one exception, and in relatively good shape.

Our teacher, a post-grad-looking hottie, walked in wearing a microphone headset, introduced herself, turned on the music (Rihanna, Katy Perry, some likeminded muzak) and got down to business. We sat on the floor, legs bent in front of us, and began to “tuck.” Tucking and untucking is the refrain that Pure Barre returns to throughout the workout, so it would seem important to explain it correctly. In dance, abdominal tucking is a core element of “neutral spine” posture, something that dance teachers spend years making second habit in their students. The Pure Barre tuck exaggerates that movement to work those pelvic floor and lower ab muscles acutely. So while I surmised what the teacher was talking about, I was surprised she gave no more than a cursory explanation of the movement. Just “tuck.” Alrighty then.

The warmup was no joke: mild cardio (knee raises), stretches, and a brisk succession of Pilates/core-strengthening movements, including my dreaded balance-on-your-butt pose. (I finally tracked down the name: Teaser. You’re a little bitch, Teaser.)

We moved on to some butt/upper thigh exercises, all of which were done from a seated pose with one leg in front and one leg behind so as to look like a Z. I tried to anticipate the correct form: hips square, both cheeks firmly on the floor, weight centered. Again, no elaboration from the teacher. These exercises were fun because they allowed me to flex each butt cheek carefully and deliberately, and that pleases me. The variations got harder and harder, and I saw a couple of my neighbors strain and contort their posture to achieve the movement, which couldn’t have been good for their lower backs. The teacher walked back and forth, always talking in her sorority-girl purr, but she made no corrections or adjustments.

This went on. And she knew that half the class was made up of first-timers, because she had us all raise our hands at the beginning. She’d say things with limited helpfulness, like, “You should only be lifting the leg a tiny bit. These are isometric movements.” Well pardon me, madame, but the only definition of “isometric” I’d be able to find is one straight up my ass, so can you toss a sister some elucidation?

In the reviews I’d read online, people raved about their teachers’ help and specialized advice, but my instructor seemed completely on autopilot. That was a shame, because many of the exercises — especially the leg and thigh series, done in a sustained plié en relevé (standing on your tippy-toes with your knees bent) — were innovative, complicated, effective, and totally worth geeking out over with the right guidance.

I took several years of belly dance, which also works very specific muscle groups with small movements, and I wouldn’t have stayed interested for so long if I hadn’t had a teacher who knew her human anatomy and provided ideokinetic imagery — explaining what comes from where, connecting each movement to its source in your musculature — to understand the exercises. From reading about other people’s experiences with Pure Barre, I think that’s exactly what you get in a good class — not to mention a terrifically efficient toning regime.

Alas, that’s not what I got. So when class was over and I stood waiting in front of the reception desk (not exactly piping up, I admit) and went unacknowledged for one minute, two minutes… I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll settle up ‘next time’”?… and slowly turned around… and walked out the door.

(Postscript: I went back the next day and paid because after that flower-cookie-on-a-stick grocery store heist years ago, I resolved to stop shoplifting once and for all. I’m too old for that shit.)

Molly Reid is a journalist based in New Orleans. Her blog, which surveys the world of workout videos, can be found at worldofsass.blogspot.com. She is not affiliated with or paid by Pure Barre to write this.

Photo by Tatjana Strelkova, via Shutterstock.