I guess I can't really complain about all the cool restaurants in my neighbourhood without also mentioning that there are a ton of fitness studios, as well—though my favourite kind of fitness remains fit'ness whole taco in my mouth (the joke is tired but so am I). I have just as much access to food as I do to exercise. The snowfall may have thwarted the 5km run I totally would have gone on last week—I know, a real bummer— but also gave me a chance to check out Barre Belle.
Calgary saw it first, but Barre Belle studios have been popping up all across Canada over the past couple of years. It's our country's largest chain of barre boutique fitness studios (kind of like Tim Hortons, but with opposite results, I'd imagine). Metro Vancouver is home to two Barre Balles—Barre Belle Kitsilano opened in late 2018 and the newest location in Lonsdale opened last year.
Both studios have showers, a locker and dressing rooms for women, a universal changing space, and classic fitness studio amenities—including hair ties, (because no matter how good Amanda Bynes looks, exercising ponytail-less is one of Hollywood's greatest lies). The spaces are decked out in a modern black-and-white colour palette, and the studios have a pretty chevron-paneled wood floor. It's a floor that would be a bit of a fall-on-your-ass risk without toe socks, which are mandatory for participants. You can BYOTS or purchase them at the front desk. Brace yourself for a pic of my friend and I's foot apparel:
Not all toe socks look like this, we learned as entered the studio and got a spot at the barre. Most of the other participants were wearing black ones that cover only some parts of your feet, worlds away from the varsity Big Bird look we were serving. Joke's on them: #Snowmageddon hit later that evening, and I'm sure that my salmon-pink atrocities would fare far better in cold than daintier socks. And after all, it's function that matters, not fashion, and our nightmarish footwear was was non-slip dreams are made of.
I tried two classes at Barre Belle Kitsilano: one was Barre Belle Fit with Jane Taylor (who is also the studio director of the North Van location) and the other was Ass + Abs with Ali Birston. Barre Belle Fit is advertised as a good intro class for those who are new to barre. It's a full body workout in an interval training format. Equipment-wise, we all grabbed a circular resistance band, a couple of light weights (I scooped up the 2.5 lbs, but there's also 3 if you're braver/stronger than me, which is likely) and a squishy ball. The hour-long workout that followed was a mix of cardio, arms, legs, and abs. I found that it went by very quickly (ideal!); every time I felt like I couldn't possibly do another rep, Jane would switch it up. Before each portion of the class, Jane would demonstrate the proper form and order of the exercises, so we always knew exactly what was coming next. I definitely wouldn't call this an easy workout, but I didn't feel on the brink of death or throwing up, either. Jane also demonstrated modified versions of each of the exercises, and I found it comforting to see other participants actually doing them. Like other barre classes I have taken, there was a lot of focus on tiny pulses ("The smaller the movement, the bigger the result," said Jane).
My Ass + Abs class with Ali followed a similar structure to Barre Belle Fit, but—you guessed it—with more attention to bellies and butts. For this workout, we used the aforementioned light weights, sliders: plastic disks that do the opposite of toe socks. We used the disks to slide our feet around while in plank position, which was arguably the hardest part of the workout. Ali was so unbelievably chipper throughout the class that I almost forgot that my abs felt like fire. It was the kind of workout you can feel working.
Maybe it was due to the studio location, or to the time of day that I took these classes, but a lot of the class participants knew each other—and knew the instructors. It's the kind of place that has a lot of regulars. The workout is tough, but not so hard on your body that you couldn't do it several times a week. I was certainly surprised at how sore I was in the days following my classes; who knew that tiny pulses and pliés could wreak such havoc on your glutes? (I guess dancers have known this for thousands of years, actually.) Be prepared to dread sitting down, standing up, going up stairs, and going down stairs. There isn't any choreo involved (bless) and all of the movements were easy to understand and modify. If you register for a class, get there early—there are a few spots around the room between mirrors, and as much as I hate to look at myself while working out, it's good to take a look at your reflection and manage your posture. And to acknowledge that yeah, you're doing this, and you should be proud. And maybe you should invest in some more tasteful toe socks.
1847 W 4th Ave. and #110 221 West Esplanade, North Vancouver
Single class drop-in $25, one month unlimited $185