La Verne opens its first ballet barre studio
by Alexandria Orozco
photography by Stephanie Ball
Our legs quiver. Elizabeth, our instructor, tells us to keep form. We hold a squat for 10 seconds, our thighs burning. I stay focused and hold the proper form, but it is a challenge while being perched so high on my tip toes. I am working out at an Xtend Barre studio, and I am going to be sore tomorrow. Xtend Barre uses a fitness method known as “ballet barre.” The word ballet typically conjures up images of graceful long bodies dressed in pale pink, the hand of a ballerina resting ever so gently on the barre as she pliés and stretches to light classical music. But that is not Xtend Barre. Sure the women in the studio hold a barre and point their toes, but they also sweat and shake from muscle fatigue as loud pulsating pop music fills the room. This intense workout has turned ballet on its head, taking the fitness world by storm. And Xtend Barre is not the only company using this fitness method. Hundreds of ballet barre fitness studios have popped up all across the country, and now, finally, in La Verne.
Behind the barre
German dancer Lotte Berk was the mastermind behind the first ballet barre workout. Berk created the concept in Britain in the 1940s after having to flee the Nazis in Germany. She was a professionally-trained ballerina and wanted to develop a workout using her ballet background. The goal was to equally challenge and strengthen each of the muscle groups, providing a full body workout and creating a dancer’s body and strength, minus the unattractive bulk. Berk’s creative fusion of ballet, Pilates and yoga attracted many people. One was American Lydia Bach who studied under Berk in London and brought Berk’s method to the US in the 1970s. Bach opened fitness studios in New York City with Berk’s permission, and these studios became a mecca for American fitness buffs who learned the technique. Some put their own spin on the technique, and opened studios of their own under new names.
In the 2000s popular barre franchises like Pure Barre, Bar Method and Xtend Barre launched studios all across the country. Xtend Barre’s creator Andrea Rogers describes her method as “Pilates and dance, amplified.” Rogers, a former professional dancer and choreographer, turned to Pilates as therapy after an injury and became a Pilates instructor. Her heart was still in dance despite her new love for Pilates, and she found herself sprinkling ballet and dance elements into her Pilates classes. She knew something special was brewing, something that would eventually lead to her own company. The first Xtend Barre studio opened in New Orleans in 2008. Since then Xtend Barre has opened more than 100 locations worldwide.
La Verne residents Cara Hipwell and Jolisa Grimmer discovered ballet barre fitness in 2012. After seeing great results from one of Jolisa’s friends who had been doing the workout, she and Cara drove to nearby Pasadena to give it a try, though Jolisa admits she was skeptical. “I was really turned off by the idea of working out inside, and I was hesitant to try a workout class, but once I did I was hooked,” she says. Cara loved the workout because the time flew by. She said other workouts had her staring at the clock, hoping it would end, but not with barre. “Time is important, and I don’t have a lot of it. So to come in, and in one hour be able to workout my arms, legs, core, and wake up the next morning feeling sore and good about myself—that is what kept me going back,” she says. After months of driving back and forth to Pasadena, Cara and Jolisa, both busy mothers, decided it was too time-consuming to commute. They saw a real need for a barre studio in the Inland Empire. They had an idea, a vision and a passion for the workout, and they began to run with it.
A home in La Verne
Ballet barre fitness is trendy at the moment and studios typically pop up in metropolitan cities. Celebrities and fashion models take classes in some of the most posh areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties. But Cara and Jolisa wanted to open their studio in La Verne. Cara says, she did not see it as a stretch. “You drive up the streets, and you see people walking. It’s an active community of just nice people,” she says, thinking about the city, its schools, businesses and people. Cara says she knew La Verne would embrace her studio.
Jolisa and Cara say they did their research and began exploring the many ballet barre methods and franchise companies. When they came across Xtend, they loved everything about it, from the upbeat music to the unique dance elements. They felt it was a fabulous way to keep clients excited about coming back since the classes always offer something new. In little time they reached a deal and opened the studio on Foothill Boulevard. The sparkle that Jolisa and Cara first saw in Xtend is now a reality, where their clients are now like friends. Some come from as far as Victorville and La Crescenta, though most are locals. “Our clients are overjoyed to have a studio so much closer to home,” says Cara. Client Sylvia Davis has been attending classes since the studio opened in June of 2013. “Even after doing it for a year there are still muscles that feel sore, and I have noticed a difference in my body. I am going to be 50 this year, and I want to be healthy so I think this is great for me,” Davis says.
Everyone has different reasons and motivations for working out whether it is age, an upcoming wedding, baby weight, or just a fun after-school activity. But customers most often said there is positivity at the studio, and everyone gets individual attention. The Tiffany-blue colored walls, brightly-pigmented dance attire and chandelier hanging over the front desk make the studio feel like a chic boutique rather than a traditional gym.The studio serves as more than just a place to workout. It is also a place to be social and comfortable. It is a community.
First hand experience
I do not consider myself an incredibly active person, but I felt enough at ease to give the class a shot. I wanted to slip into the dance shoes (or rather, socks) of an Xtend Barre regular. But as soon as the fun, upbeat music kicked in, I felt the nervous butterflies in my stomach as I stretched my stiff unworked muscles. Simple movements like pliés and light weight repetition caused me to be more aware of my mind-and-body connection. I never realized how important breathing is in terms of endurance, and this technique helped me get through some of the most challenging exercises. When we were told to grab a small rubber exercise ball I was brought back to my elementary school days—but this exercise was not like a game of catch. We placed the ball between our thighs, rose up on our toes and squeezed the ball in pulsing motions. My knees buckled as I struggled to keep the ball from falling to the ground, and I could feel my inner and outer thighs burn as I struggled to stay on my toes. I was not competing or focusing on the people around me but rather on my own personal progress.
Client Jessica Mejia explained that when she first began working out at Xtend, she began slowly, using one-pound weights, and gradually worked her way up to two pounds. These kinds of simple modifications can easily accommodate a beginner, intermediate or an advanced client who is ready for more of a challenge. “To me the interaction with the instructors at Xtend is like having a personal trainer, because when I go to the gym I don’t know what to do or how to do it,” says Mejia. “Here, there is someone telling you what to do, how to do it and fixing you when you are off.”
Meet the team
Cara and Jolisa both agree that a big part of their success in creating a unique and friendly environment for their studio was finding a diverse group of instructors from different backgrounds. Instructor Rebecca Fuson began ballet at the age of 6 and has been dancing professionally with the prestigious Inland Pacific Ballet Company since 2008. At the studio she teaches the traditional Xtend Barre class as well as a modified class, Xtend Barre Stick, which uses a stick apparatus that attaches to the barre and uses spring resistance to tone muscles.
“I really like to focus on people’s form and make sure that they are in the right position so that they don’t hurt themselves. I also try to be upbeat and make my wording easy to understand,” says Fuson. Instructor Recca Morgan, originally from North Carolina, uses her fitness background in cycling, kickboxing, Pilates and yoga when she teaches. At the Xtend studio she teaches Piloxing which she describes as a fusion between Pilates, boxing and dance. “I love seeing the smiles on the clients’ faces. It really warms my heart. It’s an amazing thing helping others reach in and find their true potential. You see it in their eyes that they are making progress,” says Morgan.
For Morgan, Jolisa, and owner Cara, the focus is encouraging clients to challenge themselves, so that two to three weeks down the road, clients can, for example, do a full plank rather than a half plank. There is no competing with other clients. Comradery is what empowers the strong women at Xtend, and keeps them coming back.