With new studios and gyms opening all the time, it’s hard to find somewhere you feel at home while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Let me help. Throughout this series, I’ll attend fitness classes around Dallas anonymously as a new student to give you an idea of what this city has to offer.
The Class: One-hour Mixed Level class at the Bar Method on Lovers Lane. There are a handful of Level 1, Level 2, and pre-natal classes offered throughout the week, but Mixed Level consumes almost all of the studio’s calendar.
The Appeal: I’ve never touched a dance bar, so the bar/barre trend intrigued me. The technique claims to help its students build “beautiful, lean, toned, and healthy bodies for life.”
Background: The Bar Method dates its roots back to 1940, when a young dancer named Lotte Birk injured her back and was inspired to create a routine that combined her dance bar conditioning with physical therapy. Birk’s practice led to the opening of the first Lotte Birk Method studio in London in 1959. Fast forward to 1991, when a young woman named Burr Leonard traveled from New York to meet Lotte Birk and wound up training there for a full year before opening her own studio in Connecticut. Ten years after that, Leonard enlisted a physical therapist to make the routines safer and more effective for her students, and the Bar Method was born. There are now 75 studios teaching Leonard’s techniques.
The Instructor: After greeting me with a smile at the front desk, our young and poised instructor, Kelly Garrison, led our class with a warm voice and detailed instruction. When she wasn’t demonstrating a movement for the class, she was always moving about while speaking to everyone by name and offering helpful critiques or giving positive feedback.
The Space: As I checked in at the front desk, admitting that I was a newbie, I was eagerly welcomed and given an unprompted tour. In this location, there are two studios and two small locker rooms on either side of the reception/boutique area (Bonus: There is a private door in the lobby leading to the Juice Bar location next door. Who likes to follow a workout with a fresh-pressed, organic juice? This girl.) The space is clean, white, and well thought-out. I tossed my bag and shoes into a locker, hooked my key to the peg board just outside the studio door, and began stretching with the other students.
Who’s There: The class’ age range was wider than I expected. While the majority appeared to be 20-somethings like me, there were several women in the mother or grandmother bracket. I looked around the room several times throughout the class, captivated by the fitness level of everyone there. The flexibility and strength everyone demonstrated surprised me. I wondered whether this type of class only attracts those of a particular fitness level, or if the fitness level of the participants is a result of this type of class. I’d be willing to put in a few months to find out for myself.
How It Went: Just before class began, I was given two sets of laughably light weights. “What the hell am I supposed to do with two-pounders and three-pounders?” I thought to myself. As Britney Spears began to play over the speakers, my poor arms were put to shame by these tiny dumbbells as we moved through a series of concentrated exercises that quickly set every major muscle on fire. We began with curls, shoulder lifts, single arm kickbacks, push-ups, and the like. To exhaust each muscle group, we did tiny, pulsing versions of each move, rather than flowing through the entire movement. Tossing the weights aside, we then focused on our legs with squats, pliés, and lunges before claiming spaces on the bar that wrapped around the mirrored room.
Sensing that dance terms like “arabesque” were foreign to me, the instructor kept an eye on my form and clarified movements through the bar portion of the class. We held one hand on the beam for balance as we did plié squats, leg lifts, calf raises, and other dance-based movements that were so unfamiliar they made my legs shake and twitch after each set. Our instructor paced the studio while queuing new exercises, adjusting the music, dimming lights, and turning up the ceiling fans when needed. I was impressed by the attention to detail and the way the class flowed along nicely. We wrapped up with an intense core-focused series to the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” (Why am I not sick of this song yet?) We squeezed small, inflatable balls between our knees as we did sit-ups and curls before relaxing into a few much-needed stretches with the assistance of a long fabric band.
The Aftermath: I woke up the next day an hour early with an odd energy that I don’t normally achieve until I polish off my second cup of coffee. The day after that I was moderately sore and noticed that my arm and core muscles felt firm and toned.
Loved: I loved the way the class and environment made me feel. The studio and locker areas were pristine and organized, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the routine was challenging.
Hated: I prefer a little something to keep my heart rate up between sets, so that I feel like I’m getting a good calorie burn for my time. According to my monitor, my average heart rate stayed around 135 throughout the class, and my usual 60-minute routine keeps me in the 150 range.
Cost: You can purchase a single class for $25, packages of 10-30 classes ranging from $200-$540, 1-12 months of unlimited access for $200-$1,875 with no commitment, or commit to a recurring charge of $175 for unlimited monthly attendance (obviously the most cost-effective choice if you plan to attend at least two or three times per week). They also offer a 30 percent discount to students and teachers and an unlimited first month for new clients at $100.
Difficulty Level: If you’re capable of getting your leg to the bar, you can do this class. The instructor offered advanced and beginner modifications for most moves, and the routine does not include any heavy cardio elements, so beginners should have no fear. I’m not terribly flexible, and I was able to do every move to some degree, and I was never embarrassed by any lack of ability.
Bottom Line: The energy and strength I felt after this class and the obviously dedicated students are enough to get me back at the bar soon.