Raising the Barre: Fitness Trend is Growing in the Lansing Area

Remember the Shake Weight? How about the Thighmaster? What about the NordicTrack that worked better as a place to hang your clothes? Exercise fads come as quickly as they fade away. By nature, a fad is both intense and short-lived. A trend, on the other hand, is different. Although also measured by popularity, a trend can also mean movement, progression or a shift in direction – and trends in exercise change the landscape forfitness businesses.

In the United States, the world of health and fitness is a $30 billion industry and shows no sign of slowing down its growth, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. As the approach of a new year motivates the masses to be active, there is a search for what will keep them coming back for more.

With more options than ever before, everyone — from lifelong fitness enthusiasts to beginners — are looking to see if the latest trend will help them lead a healthy lifestyle. One of the fastest-growing trends in the fitness industry is barre.

Developed in London by ballerina Lotte Berk in 1959, barre uses the traditional ballet barre and movements derived from the dance style while incorporating elements of yoga and Pilates. Lydia Bach, a former Berk student, brought the barre practice to New York where she opened a studio in 1971. Barre has become a certifiable trend in the last decade as studio chains open around the country. Barre studios and classes in the Lansing area have continued to grow in popularity.

With over 15,000 members, the Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club (MAC) caters to the various health and fitness needs of mid-Michigan residents. Following the increased interest in barre, Sparrow MAC offers several barre classes as a part of its group fitness schedule.

“I would say the barre craze started a good six years ago, and it’s really increased,” said Melissa Eyde, group fitness manager at Sparrow MAC. “All of these other takes and trainings of barre have come out over these past several years. Rather than us going with one of those brands, we have developed our own barre class.”

According to Eyde, the biggest misconception about barre is the need for a dance background.

“With barre, you don’t need a dance background. We’re just using the barre as a tool to stabilize and help isolate those leg muscles and other groups,” Eyde esaid.

Unlike other group fitness programs that focus on high-intensity workouts, such as Orangetheory or CrossFit, the method behind barre is less intense. Yet it’s not quite a yoga class either.

“It’s not taking a yoga class where there’s a lot of that mind-body connection, but it’s taking aspects of yoga, Pilates, balance and other aspects of fitness and really focusing in on specific parts of the body,” Eyde said. “You don’t get that in a cardio class or CrossFit. Your heart rate is going to raise in a barre class, but in a different way.”

Along with larger gyms, studios devoted specifically to barre have also become popular in the Lansing area. Pure Barre, the largest barre franchise in North America with over 500 studios, was founded by Michigan State University graduate Carrie Dorr in 2001 when she opened her Birmingham studio.

The Okemos location, which opened in 2011, is currently co-owned by former clients Dana Owen and Devon Glass, who purchased the location in 2012 when it went up for sale. According to Owen, also an instructor, her studio currently has over 400 active members, and she knows why barre continues to be so popular.

“Super simple: It works,” Owen said. “It’s crazy hard, but it works. You think that everything has to be big, like CrossFit – big and heavy and you’ve got to be completely defeated every time. Trust me, you’re pretty dead when (barre) class is over.”

Barre classes incorporate props, such as resistance bands and weights under 5 pounds, to further fatigue the arms, core, glutes and legs of clients. The weights might appear too light for those who are used to heavier lifting, but it only takes a few reps to understand why.

“People who are passers-by will walk by and say, ‘Oh my, they don’t look like they’re working that hard,’ until they actually come in and take it,” Eyde said.  “A few years ago, when I was teaching the lunch class, there were a couple of guys coming by and taking the class. And they had no idea that it was as hard as it is.”

In general, barre classes are primarily attended by women, although everyone is welcome to try it. According to Owen, having a male business partner has helped attract men to Pure Barre classes.

Another barre studio client-turned-business owner is Michelle Gimbutis, who opened The Barre Code East Lansing in June 2018. The Barre Code was co-founded in 2010 by MSU alumna Jillian Lorenz and is set to have 50 studios across America by the end of this year. Gimbutis and her husband, both Spartans, signed the agreement for their Trowbridge location in 2016. They spent time settling their family in the area before this summer’s grand opening.

The Barre Code East Lansing has grown to over 150 members since opening. According to Gimbutis, as a new Lansing-area resident and business owner, she has enjoyed collaborating with other businesses for special events and pop-up classes.

“I’m really about community and not competition,” Gimbutis explained. “I think there’s enough room for everybody. I think the Lansing area is generally underserved in group fitness offerings. We can all work together and do some really cool things.”

It’s that sense of community in the area and within the walls of the studios that continues to bring clients back to the barre.

“We say that the community in a Barre Code studio is kind of like the secret sauce,” Gimbutis said. “You come initially for the workout, but you stay for the community.”

“I think a lot of people like taking classes versus working out on their own,” Eyde noted. “It’s not a competition, but it’s motivation. You go with a friend or you meet people there. When you’re in a class, you are tired, but you look around the class and say, ‘I can do this.’ ”

Drop-in classes cost between $20-$25 at The Barre Code and Pure Barre, but both studios offer discounted rates on a client’s first class as well as discounted memberships for students and other incentives. According to Owen, while the cost is higher than traditional gyms, part of the reason is the investment in training instructors.

“It’s boutique fitness,” Owen said. “It’s expensive. That number that you’re seeing is the value of what you’re getting. If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t pay us what they pay ”

As the popularity of barre continues to grow in the Lansing area and across the country, it’s clear to see this is a fitness movement that’s here to stay.

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