Several months ago I bought a Groupon (or maybe it was a LivingSocial…when you get fifteen of those emails a day they do tend to blur) for five classes at a local barre studio. I’d heard barre was incredibly difficult, but when I pictured ballet mixed with yoga all I could see was a lot of stretching, and obviously, spandex.
My gal pal Lindsay was also picking up on the trend, so we agreed to meet for a barre class the following week. First I thought I’d try one solo to get myself acquainted with this newfangled exercise, but I didn’t realize joining this class would be like breaking into Fort Knox.
To begin with, the studio is in an office building, one which looks identical to every building in downtown Bellevue. There isn’t a sign on the building’s exterior, so I missed the driveway only to see a tiny sandwich board at the end of it pointing to the parking.
After parking, I got off the elevator and walked into the studio a responsible ten minutes early. The receptionist stared at me blankly as I gave her my best “greet me and ask if I need help” face. Left to the introductions myself, I said, “Hi. I’m here for the 5:45 class? I have a Groupon-LivingSocial for five classes.”
She stifled a laugh. “This class? Today? Did you sign up online?” I paused before responding, as dozens of women poured into the room behind me.
“Um, no,” I replied. “I wasn’t aware I had to pre-book.” What was this? The Olympic trials?
I looked over at the children’s play area and realized I’d stumbled down the rabbit hole into Bellevue Mom territory. In a flash, I could see the well-coiffed women arriving for their 11AM class each day, dressed in head-to-toe Lululemon, pushing baby Victoria in a Bugaboo stroller. I shivered and returned my attention to the principal of Sass Elementary in front of me.
“Today’s class is completely full, with a waiting list,” she told me coolly. “The best I can offer you is for you to wait over there until after class starts, and if someone doesn’t show I can give you their spot.”
If I hadn’t just driven across town, searched for the building, and parked in a garage, I would have told her that it wasn’t worth my time. But I was standing there in yoga-wear, and we both knew I wanted in that class. So I sat.
After ten minutes of pretending to flip through magazines, she told me the class was full, as expected. She gave me instructions on signing up for future classes online, and recommended I do so several days before my desired class. I barely made eye contact as I left.
Days later, I told Lindsay that this class was designed to make us feel unwanted and unattractive, two qualities we both despised. She told me it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and to meet me there the following week (provided we both signed up, of course).
By the day of the class, the bitter taste in my mouth had dissipated, and we joked about showing up in tights and legwarmers. We were convinced this was nothing more than a vanity excercise designed to make Bellevue Moms feel like they were working out without actually doing so.
We lined up dutifully at the barre, giggling and nonchalant about the work in front of us. Everyone grabbed half-pound weights, but we chose three-pound weights because seriously, half a pound? Why grab a weight at all?
The class started innocently enough with a standard warm-up, and then the instructor told us how to move our arms with those measly weights.
Within a minute and a half Linds and I were looking at each other with the slightest hint of panic. Our arms were trembling and every time we thought the instructor would relent, she’d just make us hold it longer. Each move was harder than the last and we started to grimace to get through it.
Without a pause she lead us right into leg work and thirty seconds hardly passed before we looked at each other doubled over in laughter. We couldn’t function because it was so, so hard and the pain wasn’t nearly as horrifying as the embarrassment of our underestimation.
“Drop an inch lower, and HOLD. You can do this, ladies, your legs should be shaking right now,” she yelled cheerfully.
There was no time to account for time at all, because our minds were lost in the pain. We were thrown face-first into submission and found ourselves loving every humiliating second.
Lindsay turned toward me from a deep plie, “We’re doing this twice a week,” she gasped between gritted teeth.
“Forget yoga,” I grunted back. “I need this woman’s legs.”
So we did. Every week we showed up and sweated and giggled until extended travel took my partner away from me. Refusing to quit, I called Kelly, who I knew could take the pain.
“You’re making me nervous,” she confessed over email. “What if I can’t do it???”
Realizing I might lose her before class had even started, I lied, “You’ll be fine!”
Without realizing it, I’d lied to myself as well, because instead of our usual chipper instructor, we were led by a drill sergeant disguised as a barre instructor. Before we’d even finished the warm-up, she’d zeroed in on us as the rookies and pointed out our many mistakes.
Ten minutes into the class, Kelly looked over at me with a look of desperation. I felt validated, so instead of saying something supportive, I said “I TOLD you!” which she found helpful, I’m sure.
She also found the brutality to be addictive, and has since gone to several more classes. She takes those beatings like a champ.
What makes the class so difficult, one might wonder? It doesn’t look difficult, after all. I always look around the room and marvel at how easy the poses look. I suppose it’s the micro-movement; instead of doing full repetitions with weights, you hold your arms straight in front of you and move them up and down a mere inch. Oddly, it’s much harder than doing a full repetition. Same with the legs — instead of a full squat, you squat down and then move up and down an inch until the fire in your legs is spreading over your entire body.
Torture is really the best way I can explain it. Beautiful, effective torture. The major bummer is that it’s twenty bucks per class, so I’ve stolen classes by way of memorization so I can do it for free at our home gym. This is sort of pathetic, but I’m OK with it.
At the end of my first class, sitting exhausted across the room from me was my old nemesis, the receptionist. She gave me a nod of approval, which made me realize her initial hostility had more to do with assuming I was a lightweight Bellevue Mom than anything else. Having survived the class, I gave her the smile of a comrade who’s been through the same battle and come out alive.
Needing to be wheeled out of class on a stretcher, but alive.