You may have heard women across town talking about “working at the barre.” Well, they’re not all slinging drinks — many are participating in a growing method of exercise that has roots in ballet dance conditioning. “Barre” got its start in the 1990s in New York City, and is growing in popularity as a way to tone muscles.
And the number of studios in the Birmingham metro area is growing, too. With two Pure Barre locations — one in Homewood and one in Hoover — and Grand Jete in Mountain Brook, Sara Nall and Rebecca Williams decided to open their franchise of Neighborhood Barre, which has roots in Knoxville, Tenn., in the Lakeview district.
Up until a few months ago, the only real workout you could get in Lakeview was dancing at Nana Funks or walking from dinner at Slice to hear a band at Tin Roof.
Now, at the Neighborhood Barre studio at 2808 7th Ave. South, you can lift and tone muscles using movements from dance conditioning, yoga and isometric weight training, which includes contracting isolated muscles. With fast-tempo music, easy-to-use equipment and hands-on instruction, the class leaves muscles burning.
Owners Nall and Williams were customers at other barre studios in Birmingham, but wanted to open a studio of their own and felt Lakeview was a good spot. Williams says they get clients from St. Vincent’s, University of Alabama-Birmingham and a lot of teachers, nurses and students. Nall adds that seniors are regulars, too. In fact, they offer discounts to nurses, students, teachers and seniors.
“The new people who are coming to barre, I don’t ever want them to feel defeated. They need to come at their own pace,” Williams said. “If you need to stop, stop.”
“We’re not competitive,” Nall said. “You’re not competing against each other, you’re just getting a good workout and doing what you can do.
“I think because we’re downtown, we have people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and we have had recommendations from doctors for people who have back problems because if you strengthen your core, it’s going to help everything else.”
Both women are runners, but found barre workouts to be beneficial cross training. The workout at Neighborhood Barre is fast-paced, and you stay in each position longer, which in turn focuses on certain muscles longer.
“If you’re in a position for three to four minutes versus two minutes, it just makes sense, you’re using that muscle longer and you’ll fatigue it and see results much quicker,” Williams said. “People come and they can’t believe they have a bottom they didn’t have. It went flat and now it’s back up.”
The two decided to open a Neighborhood Barre location after visiting the original location in Knoxville. It turned out that the owner, Katy Richardson, is a Samford University grad who has friends and family in Birmingham. Their Neighborhood Barre was Richardson’s first franchise location.
Although there are other barre studios in town, Williams said she, Nall and Richardson felt the Birmingham metro area could handle another place for this type of workout. “When she was opened in Knoxville, she was the first [barre studio] to open in Knoxville. There are seven now. Birmingham only has four, and we’re a lot bigger than Knoxville,” Williams said.
Cara Colbert, a local high school teacher, started taking classes at Neighborhood Barre a couple of months ago. “I’m a lot stronger, and it’s easy to be a part of the community [of the class], but you’re still going at your own pace; it’s really individualized,” she said.
Crista Roemen, a personal trainer who has taught the barre classes at the Lakeview studio since the doors opened three months ago, says the area is perfect for their business because people who work nearby can easily come to a lunchtime class, or they can pop out for a drink or dinner after an evening class.
With more businesses opening in downtown Birmingham for the convenience of the people living there — such as the Publix going in at 20th Street and Third Avenue South — or for the professionals there during the workweek, a barre studio in Lakeview just made sense, Nall said. “Most of our clients come in the morning and in the evening,” she said. “We tend to get the folks who work downtown and can’t get over the mountain in time [for classes].”
Classes are about an hour long and are held mostly before and after work hours, plus weekends. Nall adds that they have a shower available for clients who need it, and they also offer daycare.
“I train a lot of women, and I feel this workout trains women’s bodies in a different way,” Roemen said. “It changes her core, her gait and how she carries herself.”