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Abigail Wise/MEDILL

Dancer Amanda Kroiss uses the barre to stretch in a Bar Method class.

Feeling the burn of the power-ballet fad Bar Method

by Abigail Wise
Oct 25, 2012


Abigail Wise/MEDILL

Kroiss hangs from the stall bar to increase flexibility in her spine before class.


Abigail Wise/MEDILL

Bar Method classmates stretch at the Naperville studio, one of several in the area as this exercise program gains in popularity.

For 18 years, I’ve held onto ballet barres wearing a uniform of light pink tights, black leotards, well-worn ballet shoes and my hair smoothed back, into a tight bun. But when I called to reserve my spot for an evening Bar Method class, the girl on the line instructed me to wear socks and long pants so that I wouldn’t get rug burn from the carpet. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. 

Bar Method - an exercise fad that’s gaining popularity in the Chicago area after hitting its stride on the coasts - combines light weights, Pilate’s-style core work and ballet barres. The program, originally based on injury rehabilitation therapy developed by German dancer Lotte Berk in the 1950s, now strives to strengthen and reshape muscles into the long, lean ones that dancers are known for, according to the Bar Method's website.

Bar Method took off in recent years for fitness enthusiasts seeking a fast burn. Chicago area dancer and actor Amanda Kroiss attends classes to help with her career. The Bar Method helps her stay strong and flexible, she said.

Before the one-hour class, participants such as Kroiss take turns climbing the stall bar, a ladder-like wooden structure, and hanging from the top pole for one to two minutes. The exercise is supposed to lengthen the spine and increase flexibility. For me, it triggered flashbacks of the flexed arm hang in elementary school.

The meat of the class consisted of countless squats, crunches and pushups, all pulsing to the beat of pop music, quite a shock to someone who’s used to connecting Bach and ballet. The exercises themselves weren’t unmanageable, but the repetition left my muscles shaking. 

I felt the burn, but was careful to hold a supported posture and track my joints correctly to avoid straining a muscle. My former ballet teachers spent years warning that over-exhausting muscles leads to sloppy form and a higher risk of injuries. It seems like the Bar Method program might benefit from a few of my teachers’ horror stories of dislocated joints and torn muscles.

Bar Method can work wonders, especially in strengthening and stretching muscles of skilled athletes with a deep understanding of their bodies. Beginners simply looking to drop a few pounds, however, might be better off investing in a gym membership. Sure, Bar Method’s a good workout- I could hardly move the next day. But $20 a pop for the one-hour, drop-in class I attended and the risk of straining muscles, those who want to play ballerina might go for a dance class or a ticket to Swan Lake.

Check out the Bar Method's website for class descriptions to see if it's right for you.