Can exercising like a ballet dancer give you a lean physique? Siena Yates takes a spin in a barre class.

It's not always easy to get the movements right but once you do, you sure as hell feel it, writes Siena Yates. Photo / Supplied
It's not always easy to get the movements right but once you do, you sure as hell feel it, writes Siena Yates. Photo / Supplied

The promise:

Barre classes are supposed to help you develop the "body of a dancer": all lean muscle, low fat percentage and a body that doesn't make you groan like an 80-year-old man when you sit down or stand up. It's also supposed to make you stronger, improve your posture, flexibility, endurance and balance, and help with weight loss and stress reduction.

The history:

Though it may feel like barre just sprang out of nowhere over the past few years, appearing on every second corner like a Starbucks, the fitness movement actually started 50 years ago. Lotte Berk opened the first barre studio in London in 1959. She got the idea after suffering a back injury and figuring a combo of barre training and rehabilitative therapy would do the trick: The Lotte Berk Method was born.

One of Berk's students, Lydia Bach, took barre to the United States in 1971. Her studio operated in New York City until 2005 with instructors going on to open major chains around the world.

Barre really hit its stride in the 2010s, taking off in Los Angeles and New York, and - fun fact - The American Council on Exercise noted a rise in the classes' popularity after the release of the 2010 movie Black Swan. So you can direct your thanks to the goddess who is Natalie Portman.

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The technique:

I'd be lying if I said I was anywhere close to having an understanding of the technique. All I've garnered so far is that it integrates a lot of the basic ballet positions, involves a lot of calf lifts and core work, and makes a 1kg weight feel like a sack of spuds.

The official word is that barre fuses pilates, ballet and fitness while utilising a wooden beam bolted to the wall at waist height, aka. the barre, resistance bands, pilates balls, sliders, "booty bands" (whatever those are), and hand weights. There's a lot of "tucking in" your bum, straightening your back and breathing through the pain.

The reality:

I died. I write to you from the afterlife in which I am somehow still sore. I'd watched this class from the outside where we did boxing, circuit training and TRX and had once made the mistake of calling it "the nap class" because that's what it sometimes looked like they were doing in there. Boy was I wrong. It's probably one of the hardest classes I've ever taken, despite the fact that we barely even moved.

Muscles I'd never felt before were suddenly on fire and my body had never felt more alien as I tried to force it into the right shapes and get my core firing.

It's not always easy to get the movements right but once you do, you sure as hell feel it. At one point I found myself running across the studio, chasing a weight I'd dropped from the crook of my knee. At another I just straight-up threw the weight away when it got to be too much.

I - being very out of shape - struggled to keep up, but exercises were easily modified for me as a beginner and it's not so much of a cardio strain as other workouts, so it didn't completely drain me.

The verdict:

Barre classes are supposed to help you develop the
Barre classes are supposed to help you develop the "body of a dancer". Photo / Getty Images

It ain't for the faint of heart, let me tell you that. I would love to see some of the big, burly crossfit-type dudes from the gym attempt it (and indeed, some of them do) because it very much requires a different kind of strength. I can't say for sure whether it works or not but judging by the amount of pain - the good kind - I was in and the super-toned, super-babein' bods of the other women in my class, I'd wager it 100 per cent does what it says on the box. It was so good I'm now working a weekly class into my official routine.