Pure Barre: A Workout for the Ballet Dancer in You

Sunday, February 10, 2008

For a gym-a-phobe like me, it's not so much the workout I dread as the jarring atmosphere: the bad fluorescent lighting, the blaring cable news, the smell of socks. Stepping into the studio on 14th Street NW feels more like arriving at a girlfriend's flat than at an impersonal gym. Here, owner Linda Bachrack offers classes in the Pure Barre technique, a body-sculpting cousin of Pilates. The space, atop a Subway sandwich shop, is a converted apartment, with the former living room and bedroom combined into an airy studio.

Pure Barre traces its lineage to the cultish exercise method developed more than a half-century ago by German dancer Lotte Berk. Hard to explain and difficult to categorize, it feels like a hybrid of ballet, Pilates and standard aerobics-class weight training. Led by an instructor, students start by lifting light hand weights, then move to the ballet barres that line the room for a series of movements designed to tone abdominal and derriere muscles. Stretches are sprinkled throughout the class, and flexibility is as much a goal as sculpted abs.

Many movements are tiny. Who knew moving one's leg just two inches in either direction could be so difficult and wobbly-muscle inducing? I quickly found out. The students, a small and devoted group, swear by the results.

Though I'm still awaiting the appearance of those long, lean muscles one of my classmates promised, after a few classes, I'm feeling stronger and more flexible. And if I needed any more convincing, after one recent class Bachrack opened a box of tiny French chocolates sprinkled with sea salt to share. "It's dark chocolate, so it's good for you," she insisted.

I nibbled on the elegant sweet as I left the studio. There was nary a whiff of sock or a squawk of Lou Dobbs in the air. Now that's a fitness routine I could get used to.

-- Emily Heil

$22 per class (second class is free); package rates available. 1339 14th St. NW, 202-332-0377,

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