For most little girls, it’s a rite of passage: putting on the pink tutu and dancing in front of the bedroom mirror like Cinderella at the ball. And while princess dreams fade with time, many women still look in that mirror and fantasize about having next best thing. The body of a ballet dancer.
The latest fitness craze sweeping through Memphis doesn’t involve special machines or barking drill instructors. In fact, it has been around since the 16th Century.
Ballet-style workouts have already taken off in major cities. Unlike a traditional ballet class, there isn’t soft classical music playing in the background. Rather, high-energy pop music pumps through a sound system. The classes focus mainly on women, who take hold of a ballet barre, suck in their stomachs, tuck in their hips and study their postures in a wall-sized mirror.
One popular ballet-style workout franchise is called “Pure Barre,” and it’s 55 minutes of tightening and squeezing muscles until they tremble from exertion. Kim Morgan says the exercise zeroes in on a woman’s most hard-to-tone areas: the thighs, tummies, and arms.
“If somebody were actually to watch a class they won’t see a lot of movement,” Morgan says. “So they may think that you’re really not doing a lot, but that’s kind of the trick to it. They are very small movements so you can isolate into each separate muscle group. Then we work it until fatigue. We work it to that shakiness that you want. And once you get the muscles that warm they get really pliable and so then when we stretch in between, it really lengthens the muscles out.”
Morgan and her sister Lindsey Laurenzi brought Pure Barre to Memphis three years ago. Its popularity grew so quickly that they opened a second studio on Spottswood Avenue a year later. Laurenzi says the class doesn’t just appeal to fit young women.
“We get a lot (women in their) 50s and 60s,” Laurenzi says. “We’ve even had mid 70s come in here. The nice thing is that it’s low impact so we’re not jarring the joints at all. So they can come in here and not worry about any of that impact on the joints and really build that strength which really helps you stay in shape and helps with being active throughout your entire life.”
Pure Barre will soon have competition opening in Overton Square from a similar studio called Cardio Barre. Like the name says, it adds an aerobic element to the ballet regimen. Allison Steward and her father Donnie own the venture.
“It’s the full package,” says Allison. “You walk in, you take an amazing intense class. You can be any shape, any size, any age and you walk out of there feeling like you can conquer the world and I think it’s about loving yourself and making yourself what you want to be … not only in a physical form, but also in a mental form.”
Tamara Hoffmann is fascinated by the new interest in ballet-style workouts. As the Ballet Mistress for Ballet Memphis, she was a professional dancer for 18 years, mastering a technique whose fundamental positions were created in Paris during the reign of King Louis the Fourteenth.
Hoffmann says that the technique could lead to injuries if not carefully taught.
“I think we have to be careful to work all parts of the body so that you’re not over-working one area even though that is the area people want to have look better,” Hoffmann says. “They want this super cut stomach. They want this certain size seat, but then we have to think about posture, we have to think about the health of the hip joints, that were not over- working a hip joint or over working a shoulder because in the end you want a well-balanced body.”
Professional ballet dancers train for hours every day and often start at the age of four. Careers begin at 18 and frequently end in the 30s due to injuries and joint fatigue. Hoffmann says there’s a science to getting it right.
“There’s so much knowledge you have to learn,” Hoffman says. “Like when you do an arabesque, it’s not just sticking your leg up in the back. There’s all of those things that we pay attention to and just take time to learn. You know, you’re not going to learn it in one class.”
Hoffman worries that a high-energy dance class might not be the best place to improve one’s ballet technique. But as a former dancer, she hopes that the classes draw more attention to the art and athleticism that inspired the ballet workout.