All ballet dancers know what a barre is. The long handrail is used to gently warm-up the body, gain speed and precision in footwork, increase strength and flexibility, improve balance and build stability when standing on one leg.
Performing exercises at the barre sets the foundation for a strong dancer, and the results reveal itself during center floor work and the rest of ballet class. The more effort that is put into barre work, the more a student will get out of class.
Using the same principles, a number of barre-inspired workouts have emerged in the past decade – of course, the moment a celebrity endorses one (Madonna and Ryan Gosling – yes, even him!), the workout soars in popularity with the masses.
On the Asian front, WeBarre has been slowly carving a name for itself in Singapore. Founded by Anabel Chew and Linda Tang, WeBarre is a hybrid workout class combining ballet-inspired moves along with the elements of Pilates, yoga, dance and strength training.
It focuses on high repetitions of small range movements and is great for strengthening and toning your body. And no, you don’t need a dance background to grasp the basics.
“People who have a ballet background will find the movements that we do in class familiar and they will pick it up quickly. However, it doesn’t mean the class will be easier for them, as the burn will be all the same!
“A barre class is more fitness-focused, and targets specific muscle groups to fatigue and is designed to be challenging, compared to a regular ballet class that focuses on the choreography, technique and posture,” explains Chew.
Malaysians got a preview of WeBarre recently, with Chew leading the class on a sunny Sunday by the poolside at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The dynamic 60-minute class worked on strengthening and sculpting our bodies through graceful but impactful movements, fuelled by uplifting music and in the company of like-minded barre enthusiasts.
Her workouts are all about “tough love” and a “post-sweat sexy glow” is your reward. For a petite lady (she’s only 1.56m), she gave a killer workout that put the male participants to shame.
She says, “With barre, you don’t have to worry about bulking up. This physique appeals to many women, who want to be slender, build posture and get lean. It targets your entire body, specifically the smaller muscles such as stabilisers in your core and glutes, which are highly underutilised and weakened in our modern lifestyles.
“You see visible results quickly, and start noticing an increase in your stamina and resistance level – which will help increase your performance in other activities like running and competitive sports.
“For men, after all that working of bigger muscle groups lifting weights in the gym, it is important to mix up the routine with barre. The core and stability muscles must be strong so that you can safely and effectively perform heavy-lifting with minimal tension, maximum ease and postural awareness. It is also great for people who are recovering from injuries or have physical limitations, due to the rehabilitative nature of this workout.”
According to her, an average female can burn 280 to 350 calories in a class, and men, about 30% more.
A musician first
From running cross country to competitive cheerleading in school, fitness has been part of Chew’s life since young, though she says she was “quite chubby” and “heavy-chested” before she started WeBarre, but she never let her negative self-image affect her.
“I used to get lower back pain, to the point where I casually considered getting a breast reduction – to which my mum told me to stop being silly, so I let it go!
“But strangely, when I started losing weight, I felt quite self-conscious because my bust size decreased significantly, and that was a part of me that I suddenly felt was missing. I got over it soon enough, because the rest of my body was healthy, strong and happy,” she says, laughing.
Chew doesn’t have a ballet background and studied music in university, which meant she spent anywhere from four to seven hours every day practising the flute and rehearsing for performances.
“That made my neck and shoulders tense, so I picked up yoga to release all the tension in my upper body. It was also a good way to destress and focus during the 60 minutes of practice.
“To get the cardio element, I started doing HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) exercises as they are really time-efficient and I get to sweat,” says the 31-year-old, who was a professional musician for a decade and played in chamber ensembles, orchestras, jazz quartets and as a soloist, before becoming an entrepreneur.
While pursuing music, she found her way to New York City in the summer of 2014. At that point, she had been practising yoga regularly and was looking for studios in the Big Apple to work out in.
Chew recalls: “My friends dragged me to a barre class, saying, ‘Yoga is great but you haven’t felt all your muscles work until you’ve been to barre’. After my first class, I was hooked. Back then I would consider myself pretty fit physically, but that class just blew my mind – I never felt my muscles having to work like that ever!”
When she returned to Singapore, she tried to find a barre workout to challenge herself. Alas, there was none available.
“One day, the owners of a now-defunct fitness studio said they wanted to bring a barre programme to Singapore, and asked if I’d be interested to train as a part-time instructor. I took up the challenge and signed up for the training. It was there that I met my business partner, Linda.”
Unfortunately, once the duo finished their training, the studio got sold to another owner.
“That’s where Linda and I took a step back, regrouped and chatted about what it’d be like if we introduced barre to Singapore. The stars started to align and in January 2016, WeBarre was born. I wanted to create a studio that specialises in barre, to be able to do one modality really well and be the brand that comes to mind every time someone thinks of barre.
“Also, I was at a period of my life where there were endless possibilities, and when the idea of starting my own barre studio came along, I thought, why not? I know that when I set my mind on something, I push hard to make my dreams a reality,” she says with pride.
Steadily, the two expanded their business and now, have four studios in Singapore and one in Hong Kong, where over 130+ classes are held weekly. With the workout getting more popular, music has taken a backseat.
“About eight months into WeBarre, I had to make the difficult decision of choosing one over the other, as it was just too much for me to balance both. I have not, and don’t think I’ll ever give up music completely.
“As of December last year, I have been performing at a hotel in Singapore and I’m very grateful that I’m still able to keep in touch with my musical roots,” she says.
These days, Chew, who confesses to be the biggest advocate for barre, cannot do without taking a few barre classes a week – not counting what she teaches.
“I’ve seen so many of my friends getting injured from exercising, and to me, that really defeats the purpose because I want to be able to perform, stay fit and be in the best shape that my body has ever been.
“Barre is so good for toning, strengthening and injury prevention. Leading up to my wedding last year, I taught 10 to 11 classes a week and took another three classes to stay in shape! To complement Barre, I take flexibility classes because stretching and recovery is also important,” shares Chew who is looking for opportunities to open a WeBarre studio in Malaysia.