Raising the Barre


Barre classes have become one of the fastest-growing fitness trends nationwide, and fitness studios and gyms on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton are getting in on the graceful action. A ballet-inspired workout designed to build toned and lean muscles, barre (pronounced ‘bar’) is designed for beginners as well as those with previous ballet experience.

The exercises are a combination of postures inspired by ballet and other disciplines, like yoga and Pilates. The barre is used for balance during exercises that focus on isometric strength training — holding the body still while contracting a specific set of muscles — and high reps of small range-of-motion movements.

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The studios are typically clean and sleek, with calming colors and ample space. A ballet barre with mirrors wraps the walls of the fitness room. On the floor, a low-pile carpet is more forgiving than the wood floors in traditional ballet studios. Classes usually last about an hour, with a short warm-up, 10 to 15 minutes of exercises with weights, 20 to 30 minutes of barre work, and 10 minutes of floor exercises. The class finishes with a cool down and stretches. And don’t forget your socks — because the exercises are done barefoot, participants wear no-slip socks that can be purchased at the studio.


—Jen Baker, student

Kara Raehn, owner of Pure Barre in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, welcomes newcomers with a briefing about terms and techniques before telling them to have fun and not worry if the tiny, pulsating movements feel foreign to them at first. Most beginners hear about the classes from their friends and decide they want to try it for themselves, she said.

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Wearing a headset mic, Raehn guides participants through each exercise while walking around the studio to correct posture or offer feedback to students. Because the routines target muscles most people don’t exercise frequently, many people experience body shaking as they hold each pose and complete each rep. Raehn says this experience is totally normal and will improve with time.

Raehn also encourages each participant to move at her own pace. Class regulars might be able to stretch easily into a ballet split or other position requiring serious flexibility, while beginners may struggle to achieve some of the positions. During the class, she shares modifications for the more difficult poses so that everyone gets a total-body workout, regardless of experience or ability.

Jen Baker, a regular at the Pure Barre Bluffton location, joined because she wanted to try something new.

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“I was looking for something that would help me tone and sculpt without the cardio aspect,” she said. “I like that you can go every day and not get burned out. I also saw results pretty quickly.”

Barre workouts are designed to help an individual achieve a “dancer’s body” — strong, sleek and toned. Blending cardio along with a few barre classes per week can help achieve optimum results.

“We focus on fatiguing the muscles that women struggle with most: arms, abs, hips, seat and thighs,” Rhaen said. “After we’ve exhausted those muscles, we stretch while they are warm and pliable. This creates a body that is lengthened, lifted, feminine and strong.”