When I was 4, my mom showed up at preschool pickup with pink tights and a leotard and told me I was taking ballet. I put my leg braces on over the tights and went to class. I loved everything about the class—twirling, leaping, even working at the bar. I danced for the next 11 years, until I reached the limit of my ability in high school and had to quit.
I missed dance for years. Then, in my early 20s, I took a barre workout class. When I placed my hand on the ballet bar, everything flooded back—I adjusted my posture, I turned out my toes, I whispered to myself, “don’t sickle!” It felt like my old dance days. When I walked into Bar Method in Inwood Village recently for a class, I knew I’d enjoy it.
I didn’t realize how much. And I didn’t expect how many accommodations they’d make for me as a disabled woman. When I checked in with my instructor, she almost immediately asked if I had any injuries. I explained my disability and she asked questions about what I could and couldn’t do, like pushups or planks (I can’t do either properly). She suggested several modifications and promised she wouldn’t push me during the class unless I was doing something dangerous.
Outside the studio, we had to grab dumbbells, but they had a range of weights. I said a silent “thank you” and snagged the one-pounders. As I stretched before class started, a woman came up and introduced herself as another instructor. She said because I was new to Bar Method, she’d work out next to me and help me. I explained my disability to her. She immediately started giving me modifications, like standing pushups at the bar and different arm movements when we did anything overhead, since I can’t raise my arms above my head. During the hour-long class, I appreciated having someone next to me who could discretely make modifications based on my limitations.
The class itself was hard. Barre focuses on small movements, isolating the muscles and doing dozens of repetitions. There is a lot of leg shaking and mind-over-matter involved. We did leg lifts, pushups, various stretches, chair sits, crunches, and something called a “pretzel,” which exercised the gluteus maximus and made my butt sore for several days.
We spent about a third of the class at the ballet bar. At one point, the instructor handed out small pads to place between our knees and thighs and do leg squeezes. This is my least favorite part of barre classes. Basically, you’re up on your toes—relevé, in ballet speak—and bending your legs up and down (plié), while squeezing the pad between your thighs. It’s miserable, but as I looked around the room, I saw everyone was shaking just like me.
One thing I loved about the class was the positive, inviting atmosphere. The lead instructor handed out tons of compliments to everyone. She praised people on their turnout and form, telling one woman she should’ve been a ballerina. She even called out “nice modifications” to people who made adjustments for themselves, which I appreciated. There were also virtual students livestreaming the class, and the instructor made sure to celebrate them, too, for their work.
After the class ended, both instructors came over to me and asked me how everything went. We debriefed, and they explained further modifications I could use. I appreciated all the care and attention they took with me, not only as someone new to Bar Method, but also as a disabled woman. It was refreshing—and reaffirming—that I could do actually do this.
The Park Cities Bar Method leans into the dance studio idea. There are bright, fluorescent lights, mirrors on the wall to check your form, and, natch, ballet bars. You will get sweaty. That’s okay, though, because you can cool off and recover at Hiatus, which is just a few doors down.
Like I said, the class isn’t easy. There’s a lot of leg-buckling—even the instructor next to me was shaking. The small movements can be killer. Even worse are the number of repetitions for each exercise. My legs would be screaming, threatening to give out, then the instructor would call out, “Only 30 more reps!”
I wasn’t expecting the class to be as accommodating as it was. I appreciated the different dumbbell weight options. I liked that there was a livestreamed option. Many gyms offered that during the height of the pandemic. However, keeping it up allows folks who don’t have the means to come in-person—or it’s too dangerous for them, like the immuno-compromised—to participate. I was genuinely shocked, though, with the instructor working out beside me. I don’t know if having an extra instructor with a new person happens every time, or if I was a special situation, but it is a practice that is inclusive to people with different abilities.
The Cost of It All
Bar Method’s “New Client Special” is pretty sweet: two classes for $22. The kicker is that you must take both classes within a week, which can be difficult scheduling-wise. A normal, one-off class is $29, and Bar Method has a variety of class packages that generally shake out to about $16–$23 a class. They also have livestream options for $39 and $79.
Would I Go Again?
Yes. After all, I got the New Client Special.