Even in rush hour you can spot those who have pranced and flexed in the name of barre-fitness. They stand strong amongst a sea of slumped, slouched commuters. Barre classes use the same techniques and postures as traditional ballet, but with a focus on strength and conditioning rather than pirouettes and pliés. So watch ‘Black Swan’, grab your gym kit and get ready to stand tall amongst the crowds.
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London’s best barre classes
You can thank Barrecore founder Niki Rein for ushering ballet fitness across the Atlantic. She now heads up an empire of eight London barre studios (with four other outposts in other UK cities). Each 60-minute session is a series of small toning movements, designed to improve posture and sculpt a ballet-dancer body. Sound simple? After the twentieth repetition, it really isn’t – you’ll stagger out with shaky thighs and the prospect of a seriously sore bum for the next couple of days. Classes are small, meaning more attention from your teacher and a slimmer chance of booting your neighbour in the face as you attempt an arabesque.
Define is a venture from American trainer Ashley Verma. The petite fitness studio in the heart of Fitzrovia specialises in improving strength, posture and definition with a series of barre, dance and mat work classes. The high-energy barre classes are the real stars. Ashley’s method involves intense isometric moves (read: tiny repetitive movements until your muscles are quivering uncontrollably) followed by deep stretches. It's a challenging class whatever your fitness level, but her energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Plus knowing you’re never more than a few minutes away from a chance to catch your breath and stretch it out helps. Classes at Define are at the pricier end at £28 a session, but the classes are kept small so they have a personal-training vibe. The studio has a luxe feel too, with piles of white towels, hair ties and toiletries on hand plus The White Company products in the roomy showers to soothe your shaking limbs post-workout.
This basement fitness studio is one of the coolest places to break a sweat in east London. They run a number of great barre classes. Try Disco Barre, ballet-inspired moves to ace tunes, or to really strengthen specific areas give Ballet Rebels: Buns and Guns or Box and Burn a go. Our fave is Pilates, Barre and Flow, an elegant and bum-shakingly good class full of fun moves that might just distract you from how hard you’re working.
The Refinery, 14 Collent Street, E9 6SG. £5 for first-timers, £14 drop-in.
This airy studio in Richmond is home to one of the capital’s toughest barre workouts. If you’re a ‘no pain, no gain’ exerciser, you’ll take pride in keeping up with the relentless lunges, squats and lifts, many of which use ankle weights, dumbbells and exercise bands. Each set of repetitions is designed to strengthen and tone the smaller muscle groups that old-school aerobic workouts barely touch. Teachers manage to challenge regular class goers while supporting and correcting clueless newbies and, once you’ve mastered the hour-long session, the bravest barre-goers can graduate to the Barreworks Fusion workout. An extensive series of barre videos are also available to download for those wanting to practice, learn and prance at home.
Barreworks Studio, Richmond, TW9 1SA. A trial class costs £15 then it’s £25 per class. Online classes are £6 each
If you’ve got a summer holiday coming up, then this class suddenly becomes all the more appealing. Danceworks’ Beach Body Barre involves light weights, active stretching and intense interval training to achieve a strong core and defined physique. In other words: a body you won’t mind parading around on the beach. Thanks to a varied range of moves – and the friendliness and enthusiasm of the teacher – the session flies by, while the compact class size ensures that your posture and form receive plenty of attention, just like you will when you’re next sunbathing, obviously.
Danceworks 16 Balderton Street, W1K 6TN. £10 per class as a drop-in (with a discount for members)
Set to a peppy pop soundtrack, Frame’s signature barre class is a good starting point for newbies, or those with a short attention span: dance jargon is kept to a minimum, while the instructor leads the class through ballet-inspired moves, cardio-based lunges and jumps and the odd downward dog. The difficulty level shifts up a gear towards the end of the class, when you take to the barre for a fiendish series of leg raises, followed by a plank perched on an ’80s-style exercise ball. As with all of Frame’s imaginative, fun classes, you’ll leave with a smile on your face and legs like jelly.
Four London locations. £15 per class
Before you’ve even tiptoed ‘en pointe’ into the studio, you’ll be won over by the changing rooms at Heartcore’s boutique gyms, which are more high-end spa than sports centre. Choose between the signature 55-minute class, which mixes conditioning mat work with classic ballet-inspired moves at the barre, or the more intense Barre45, which may knock ten minutes off, but adds loads of micro-conditioning moves and sweat-inducing repetitions – in other words: a really graceful, full-body workout.
Various locations. £27 per class, bulk class purchases also available
If you think a ballet workout is all prancing, pointing and posing, one of Aussie powerhouse Paola Di Lanzo’s 50-minute sessions will change your mind. A mix of pilates, cardio and dance-based moves, her Body Barre method is sweatier than the average barre class and you’ll use a series of weights, resistance bands and other bits of exercise paraphernalia. It’s tough going, but Di Lanzo’s cheery encouragement slightly diminishes the pain of holding a plank for 60 seconds. Also on offer are cardio-heavy variants like Body Barre Burn and workouts targeting specific ‘problem’ areas, such as Paola’s Body Barre Below.
Various locations. £28 per class. Bulk class purchases are also available
If you’ve ever wondered why Notting Hill residents glow with health, we think we’ve found the answer: they’re all regulars at Barretoned. Over the course of a 60-minute session, you’ll exhaust your limbs with a sequence of tough moves that take place at the barre and on the mat.. Class sizes are small, so there is nowhere to hide: your instructor will call you out on your half-arsed posture and form to make sure you’re getting the most from even the tiniest flex or pulse. The studio’s website claims that you’ll see changes in your body after eight sessions – and we’re inclined to believe the hype.
Notting Hill Studio, 12 Chepstow Road, W2 5BD. £28 per class.