Photo by Ash Daniel
Tina Eshleman (second from the left) in her cardio barre class, as instructor Sarah Ruppel Bullis (right) leads warm-ups
You can’t hide in cardio barre class. Mirrors line one wall of the Barre Boutique’s intimate, rectangular Carytown studio, and with the number of participants ranging from two to eight during the classes I visited, the instructor is able to keep a close watch on you and correct your position. During my first couple of visits, I felt like I was more in need of correcting than most, but that was likely because I had less experience. In other group exercise classes, such as aerobics, I’ve been able to fade into the background. Not here — and that’s part of the program.
“We know that people are busy and time is valuable, so our instructors will make sure you get as much out of the sequence as possible,” says Katie Gilstrap, founder of Barre Boutique. After Gilstrap discovered barre exercise during a trip to New York City, she began working on creating a similar experience in Richmond.
“As women, there are certain parts of our bodies that we want to strengthen,” she says. “This targets those areas and does it in a way that builds long, lean muscles as opposed to bulking up.” Gilstrap says she felt right away that doing barre would help her to reach her goal of achieving a dancer’s physique.
The instructors at Barre Boutique provide inspiration to others who have that goal, as all of them have professional dance experience. Laurie Lou Garside, who taught three of the classes I attended, previously danced with Richmond Ballet; current Richmond Ballet company members Lauren Fagone and Elena Bello, and School of Richmond Ballet faculty member Sarah Ruppel Bullis, also teach at Barre Boutique. Like regular barre classes, cardio barre incorporates ballet movements and posture. “Abs in tight” and “keep that tailbone tucked” are frequent class instructions. But in cardio barre, the pace is faster, the movements are bigger and the rest intervals are shorter.
During my first cardio class, I kept up reasonably well, though there were a couple of exercises I found hard to do at all: One involved doing a sit-up and holding the position at about a 45-degree angle; another one was sort of a sideways, one-armed push-up. For many of the more challenging moves, instructors offer “modifications” for those who are at a less advanced level.
The movements did feel graceful — even if I wasn’t always graceful — and the exercises gave me a new appreciation for dancers’ strength, balance and flexibility. Sore muscles afterward made me feel like I had accomplished something. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do the splits, but it did feel good to stretch and push myself.
Gilstrap stresses that dance experience is not necessary. “Even if you don’t feel that you are a dancer, you will get stronger and more flexible.”
At press time, Barre Boutique was scheduled to add a second, larger studio in the Shoppes at Bellgrade, off West Huguenot Road.