How One Pilates Instructor Approaches the Barre

By applying the Pilates principles, Michelle DuVall strives to make barrework as mindful as the method itself.

By Michelle DuVall

The Pilates principles can be applied to all aspects of life, but I especially love applying them to other fitness modalities. As founder and creator of my own method called Barre Variations, I’m heavily influenced by my years of teaching Pilates. Barre can feel intimidating, fast paced or even overwhelming. However, approaching the movement with the same mindfulness as Pilates can bring more freedom and ease to the movements. Here, I’ve broken down each Pilates principle and how to incorporate it into your barre workout. 

1. Breathing
Joseph Pilates said, “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.” Although the stakes may not be that high in a barre class, it’s important to remember to breathe! Rather than getting caught up in the instructions of the movement, take a moment to connect with your breath. Inhaling and exhaling can aid in the movement. Also, using the breath to find a deeper connection in the body, as well as the mind, will make for less stress when the barre burn starts to kick in! 

2. Concentration
Barre classes can have a lot of choreography to follow. This can be an added stressor when trying to work out. However, making it a more playful experience by thinking of the movement as a game can change the mind-set. When the focus is on improving concentration, it can be a really fun way to exercise the brain as well as the body! I always tell my students in class not to get too worked up over “getting” the choreography “right,” because there is no performance happening at the end of class! 

3. Centering
In Pilates, there is a strong familiarity of the powerhouse and what that means. In barre, or even in ballet classes, finding your center, or your core, is the same concept, just in different terms. This principle is an easy one to bring into barre workouts, because there is a lot of balance required. Yet, connecting with the powerhouse isn’t just about the muscles making up most of the torso, but also finding a connection between the mind, body and spirit. The outward focus of the concentration principle is now taken a step (or two) further by bringing that attention inward. This principle allows for an opportunity to check in with your mind-set, a time for nonjudgement of the self, and to be content with how you are showing up physically and mentally to the class that day. 

4. Control
Taking the breath and mind-set principles above, and adding control to the mix, will allow for a safe and effective workout. If the focus and attention is somewhere else, and the movement is being done without much thought, this can lead to strain or injury. Barre classes can have a reputation for doing a high number of repetitions, but I love applying this principle to my classes to get the most out of every single movement. When the exercises are done with control, efficiency and a whole lot of effort, there is no longer a need to do an extremely high number of repetitions. Finding control in barre classes will aid in working the muscles properly, effectively allowing the body to feel the burn without burning out!

5. Precision
Much like with the control principle, precision is all about efficiency! This principle is also about alignment. Most of our lives are spent doing things that would be considered “out of alignment.” However, I love the practice of Pilates and barre because it helps to realign the body, build overall strength and allows for the body to do a more variety of movements. In barre classes, precision is a key component to building overall strength, while avoiding overworking and straining other parts of the body. It’s important to remember that precision doesn’t equal perfection! Finding the ideal alignment in your own body is a process, a journey that can change often or even take more time than expected. The end goal is to enjoy the path toward being more precise with each movement—and to have fun!

6. Flow
I like to take this Pilates principle into the barre classes I teach and implement it in the transitions between movements. Instead of collapsing or falling out of the last repetition, I instruct my classes into the next movement as seamlessly as possible. This is challenging, and allows for more fluidity in class. Being in this type of flow, and trying to connect each exercise as best as possible, keeps the mind focused (remember the concentration and centering principles) and connected to the moment. Again, this flow doesn’t mean that you need to “keep up” with the class, or that it has to turn into a dance routine, but it can offer a challenge to coordination, balance, strength and control!

MICHELLE DUVALL is an expert movement teacher who finds joy in motivating others to make connections through mindful movement. She holds a BFA in Dance, PMA®-CPT, 200hr Yoga certification, and trained in The Roll Model Method by Jill Miller. She is a co-founder and Education Director of a former barre method company. She spent years teaching barre, and training other barre instructors how to teach.  Taking her knowledge, Michelle wanted to create a method and community that was inclusive, creative, and backed by proper biomechanics. With her rich background in various movement styles, Michelle created Barre Variations. A manual, method, and video library with an expanded syllabus of choreography and technique.

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