Lift, tone, burn

Tuck, hold, squeeze, pulse, curl, breath, circle, freeze. I swear I hear these words in my sleep.

I am three weeks into my membership at Pure Barre, Ann Arbor, and while I love the way I feel after taking a class, sometimes I find myself more enamored with the cult-like nature of the exercise studio than I am the workout.

For those who don’t know, barre is the next Pilates and the Yoga for women who like their workouts scheduled and spoken to them but who just can’t sit still. It involves, yes, a ballet bar — although there isn’t a whole lot of grace associated with it, from my end — along with light weights, a ball, and some sort of stretching tube. The idea is to use the body’s resistance, small controlled movements and high repetition to push the muscle to exhaustion — which induces a very funny looking quaking, especially when you’re on your tip toes — in order to change its shape. And while each class is nearly identical, barre is never easy. The better you know the postures, deeper you feel what they call the “mind-body connection,” the more out of breath you’ll be. Not to mention that the instructors are trained in motivational speaking and will come around to ensure your leg lifts to you “challenge pint,” should you think about lowering it for a break.

I love it. I shelled out an arm and a leg for an unlimited package for the entire semester and as I sit here writing about it, my muscles are jumping to get back. And for what it’s worth, I’ve seen my body change for the better. And I’ve considered throwing away my education to become a barre teacher, but that’s another blog post.

What’s more interesting to me, or rather more relevant for the purposes of my capstone project, are the dynamics of these classes and the women who participate in them. Take, for example, the Pure Barre “look.” The studio requires long or crop leggings and socks, which is code for at least one article of clothing from Lululemon or Athleta — there is more brand loyalty in that room than in Starbucks on South U during finals — and the Pure Barre socks, which are black with colored dots, for individuation of course. It’s a barrier to entry (on top of the membership) that makes these women constantly invest back into the organization, money to buy clothing specifically to wear to class or time to coordinate outfits that will convey access to that clothing.

The other day, I watched three girls get in an Uber after a 9 am class. Yeah.

Anyway, I’ll spend the rest of my semester — five to six days a week! —  recording the norms and rituals associated with this cult-like workout, all the while working to … lift, tone, burn??

2 thoughts to “Lift, tone, burn”

  1. Erin, what an interesting idea!

    I’ve never been to Pure Barre, but I attended Barre Code (same exact thing) for a few months last year, until my wallet couldn’t take it anymore… As you mentioned, I loved the workout as well! It worked all the key muscle areas i wanted, and kept it interesting. I actually had fun there!

    However, I’d agree with a lot of the observations you have already made about it’s “cult”-like following. It interesting to think about what leads to this. Could it really just be the quality of the workout? Ehh… As someone who also has been in the environment, I would be curious about the following question. If Pure Barre was more affordable to all, how do you think it would affect the type of following it has? Not only the type of people, but the way those people interact with/”follow” the organization. In other words, I wonder how the kind of exclusivity that is inherent in a service that is that high priced affects how people interact with it. The values of those who attend could be affected by this as well. Especially when there are many other alternative, more cost efficient fitness options available, yet people chose this instead. Exclusivity is an interesting phenomenon, especially in the fitness world.

    I’m excited to hear more about what you discover over the rest of the semester! Any other kinds of investigative interviews with people who go there or work there could be extremely interesting as well. Good luck!


  2. Hey Erin!

    I am so happy this is the project you decided to run with! From the first time I heard your long list of ideas, this was the one I was crossing my fingers you would you go with. Although I have never actually been to Pure Barre, I live with five roommates who attend this workout religiously (I tried to italicize for affect, but no luck). One of my roommates goes 7 days a week, while the others try to attend at least every other day…so I definitely understand all the references you made in your blog.

    I think that this project has so much great potential because you are really in it (again..tried to emphasize with italics…). You understand the class, because you take the class. I would love to hear more about what you plan to actually write about as your main focus – is it a culture based piece? A personal anecdote?

    Either way, have you thought about contacting the owner of the class and asking if there was anyway you could get ahold of their various demographics? If not, would you consider staying after one day and recording them? Do you think girls go in packs or alone? Do you find that heavier/skinnier girls attend? In general, I am so interested (just like Carlina) in the cult-like nature of this work-out class, and would love to find out more about who exactly is apart.

    I cant wait to hear more about your project throughout the semester!


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