Gymbox member Genevieve Teevan tries Barrebells class, the new – much tougher – take on ballet fitness.
Barre is the regime of choice for hyper-competitive Upper East Side billionaire’s wives/exoskeletons and one of the most gruelling and efficient recent fitness crazes. So naturally Gymbox decided to make it even tougher – by adding kettlebells.
“It’s a lot harder than you think it’s going to be,” says Natalie Jayne Hall, a professional dancer who teaches the Tuesday lunchtime class I attended at Gymbox Covent Garden.
Dancer and Gymbox instructor Tash Volley came up with the concept after digging deep into her dance and sport science background to regain fitness after an injury. The class starts with a fast-paced warmup of dynamic stretching to get us all pliable, bendy and, err, warm.
Before we move to the barre for the punishing ballet-inspired routine, Natalie directs us to claim one of the smallest kettlebells. Never in my adventurous and varied career writing about Gymbox classes have I held such bijou weights. I’m kind of embarrassed. And yet… it’s surprisingly taxing to maintain any semblance of grace while hefting even wussy 4kg weights above your head with every move.
So, about the grace: I’m just about able to accept the obvious fact that I lack the genetic destiny ever to be mistaken for a ballerina, yet still I quite like pretending to be a lissome marionette made of lean muscle and quivering, barely contained emotion for the 45-minute duration of a barre class. Something about the whole tenacious-strength-meets-fragile-beauty aesthetic is massively appealing. Think Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
Now think Demi Moore doing one-arm push-ups in G.I. Jane. Combine the two far-from-topical film references and you have a sense of the body Barrebells class aims to deliver.
Barrebells propels you through a simplified version of what real ballerinas do every day. The basic moves are pliés (ladylike squats with your heels together and feet turned out, a.k.a. first position), relevés (rising up on the balls of your feet), and battement tendus. The last is one of the hardest. You stand with one hand resting gently – not gripping! – the barre. Your feet are in first position, and the leg furthest from the bar brushes along the floor through the arch and metatarsals until the toes are pointed and the heel and arch are lifted off the ground. The motion is reversed for the return journey back to the starting position. You repeat this quickly in sequences to the front, side and back and then move on to more advanced exercises until you’re exhausted. Unless you’re in Barrebells class – in which case you attempt to press and snatch with kettlebells in time with your legs which makes the whole ‘bend and snap’ routine from Legally Blonde look both natural and poised.
Forget the coke binges and “living fast and dying young” tweets, ballet’s bad boy Sergei Polunin would have quit The Royal Ballet on day one if they’d made him do this. Or maybe not if he’d had Natalie motivating him. “Drive up with the kettlebell!” and “Push through the floor with your foot!” she exhorts our intensely focused, unsmiling group. This isn’t the high-fiving, smack-talking, friendly atmosphere of a boxing class, but our instructor’s expert and encouraging commentary guides us through to the end.
About a millisecond before I admit defeat, we put the barres away and, kettlebells still in hand, move to the centre of the room for some sautés (jumps). Our cardio box is ticked and – finally – we get to the cooldown.
Will I be back? Yes, because it offers total body toning and that’s rare for a class that doesn’t leave you too sweaty-haired to get on with your day. And yes, because who wouldn’t want to look – or at least feel like – Polunin in the video for Hozier’s Take Me To Church?