My hands grip the barre until my knuckles start to pale; my rings dig into my fingers from the pressure. I am clinging to the slender wood for dear life as my entire body threatens to tremble into a puddle on the thin carpet.
“Rise onto your highest pair of heels, and sink you seat an inch lower,” the instructor says as she paces methodically around the room. Her tone is soothing, yet her words abrate my mind as my muscles beg me to stop in an ascending burn.
I roll onto my toes, pressing and arching my foot until I feel my calf muscle ball up behind the back of my knee. As I ease my hips lower, awkwardly squatting above my elevated heels, my legs behind to vibrate. It’s a subtle tremble at first, just a quiver on the edge of my skin, sending waves through the acid beginning to team on my muscles. I breathe through pursed lips and hold tighter to the barre.
“Now tuck to tempo. Tuck, tuck, tuck.”
I dig deep and gather the muscles of my abdomen in towards my spine, tilting my pelvis up into my torso. The muscles that still feel so distended from two babies. With each tuck, fire licks the tops of my thighs. My heels press against each other, desperate to stay lifted. I feel the weakness trickle down, pouring over my legs down into my perched toes.
“Lower your hips down an inch, up an inch. Little down, little up.”
My muscles practically cackle at her words they sound so outrageous. Didn’t she mean lower your heels and lock your knees? Stand like a normal, relaxed person?
I close my eyes and breathe more purposefully. I do not look in the mirror. I do not want to see the sweaty tomato of my face while my reflection wants to give up so deeply.
“This is your last change,” she says.
Hope blossoms across my chest. I can do this. It has to be less than a minute left.
A minute of burning hell on my legs.
I lower and lift my hips against the objections of my flesh. I make the small, controlled motions even though my nerves send relentless messages indicating they cannot comply. My body moves just the same. With each lower, the shake seizes me. My heels wobble and smack together; my knees knock and tremble. I can feel the vibrations rolling up my body in waves all the way to my cheeks.
“Final 10 strong. 1, 2, 3, 4…”
The countdown inspires me. Only 10 tiny movements left. I clutch the barre harder, close my eyes tighter, focus only on her count. I drop my seat lower, tuck my hips harder. My entire body is a mess of quivering fire.
” 9 and 10.”
I made it. I lock my knees and bask in the pleasant rush of the acid receding from my muscles. I breathe out relief as the heat stops flaring beneath my face.
Then I feel it, somewhere between the endorphins and the accomplishment–the high. The pain in my body evolves into euphoria, and my mind climbs somewhere both level and calm.
I believe I can safely say that I have reached addiction level with my affair with Pure Barre.
That is what I do, after all: become addicted to things. Substances, activities, people, places. My mind will turn about anything into a drug. I live in extremes and chases excesses. If a little is good, more must be better, and a lethal dose is probably where I’ll end up.
Hence the attempt to shift addictions to “healthy” outlets. But I digress…
I started trying barre classes because an acquaintance of mine had started teaching classes and was posting about it. I was mired in my obsession to recover from my son and was trying any and all fitness options available, so I gave it a shot.
The first class absolutely annihilated me. I could scarcely perform the exercises included, and I was sore like I potentially never have been. And I rarely get sore anyway.
I enjoyed the class, felt deeply intrigued by the challenge; however, I was married to my gym and the full schedule of classes I committed to every week. I could not afford the extra expense and more the extra time without provided child care. So barre became an occasional flirtation, once a month or so.
At some point, I started going more frequently. Perhaps when my son’s school schedule changed and gave me more unencumbered time. Then I purchased a deal on classes without actually reading the fine print. When my unused classes were about to expire, the studio owner was gracious enough to give me an extension, into which I stuffed every class I could make.
I actually injured my hamstring doing barre stretches. After a dance class, I was moving gently through the thigh stretch sequence. When I came down easily into the splits (which was a celebrated accomplishment), something popped, and five months later, I am still recovering. Ironically enough, the activity that injured me also seems to the best suited to my injury. With its minute, controlled movements, barre is the perfect exercise to strengthen my hamstring without straining it further.
It is as if the class itself has trapped me.
Now, I am a 2-3 classes a week attendee whenever I can support it. With my obsessive commitment, it is pretty often though children and work are known to pop up in the way. Barre even has me convinced me to abandon the gym, shifting to only barre, belly dance, and running. Once I found a piece of dance to complete my heart, I was sold.
I LOVE and HATE Pure Barre classes, potentially equally, definitely simultaneously.
The classes themselves make me uncomfortable. Yes, I am a dancer; I was a belly dancer for eight years and still pursued hauntings of that with zumba and hip hop classes. However, that is all VERY different from ballet. The only ballet I have experienced is watching my daughter’s classes. I had the benefit of knowing how to tuck my hips, but the form and movements are all completely divergent. It throws my body out of its comfort zone, challenges its muscle memory and ingrained positions.
Yet, beyond the physical fluency, I do not look like a ballerina. The instructors and the majority of the students look like they came up on the barre, long, lean, and svelte. I am a thicker girl with curves and things that shake when I shimmy. Never do I look larger than in a classroom full of these slender former dancers. And that unavoidable comparison tickles every tingle of body dysmorphia I have. Hating myself in a barre class mirror is what pushed me back to counting calories (which I thankfully have dropped again).
This discomfort is part of the reason I keep going back. Yes, I am a masochist at heart, but it is also the challenge that seduces me. I want to feel like I overcame the weakness of my flesh; I want to feel like I made progress battling back the crazy in my mind.
Physically, I am enticed by not being good at it, by it always being hard no matter how much I improve. Like running, regardless of how much I train or how I often I do it, I am not able to coast. I coasted through my entire youth; I don’t want that anymore. If I somehow master one routine, it changes to a new one that wreaks havoc on my muscles. And I’m a sucker for the pain of it.
And it hurts. So much. The class is literally painful. You would think such tiny movements would be easy. Absolutely not. My muscles are on fire and trembling the entire class. I can feel tidal waves of acid blaze over my nerves. My knuckles go white clinging to that barre for dear life. I sweat as much as I do in high cardio. It hurts. Yet on the flip side of that pain is the rush after, the high, the euphoria. Which is ultimately what I am always physically chasing. Which I why I am so addicted to running.
As much as it pains me physically, the true challenge for me is mental, emotional. That goddamn echo of an eating disorder I can’t seem to shake. Mentally, I refuse to be controlled my own insecurities. I will not allow my misguided, shallow fixations and comparisons to prevent me from doing anything. I may feel gigantic and weak in these classes, out of place and incongruent with all the other participants, but that is why I have to keep going. Not to work my way into fitting in but to make myself become comfortable standing out. I will learn to love and accept myself one way or another. If I can wrangle bipolar, body distortion should be downhill from here. Even if I have to sit with my own self-loathing beating at my chest and a swarm of inappropriate comparisons buzzing in my brain for 100 classes. I will not limit myself.
And with each class, it gets better. I feel more at home in the class; I feel more comfortable in my skin. I am wearing myself down, dulling my sensitivities, making it part of my normal. If I can accomplish that, it would be far more valuable than getting to a certain size or weight.
So I love and hate the physical challenge. I hate and need the mental challenge. The results… I just love.
My son is over two now. I have been literally beating myself up for two years trying to recover from him. Between thyroid issues and injuries, diets and different classes, nothing really worked. Or maybe did not work fast enough for me. Either way. Yet, with the recent burst of barre classes, I not only notice a different in the performance of my muscles, I actually physically see the different on my body. I think all the cross training is why my running pace continues to improve though my injury does not and training has not happened at all.
Most of all, these classes are doing amazing things for my ass (or “seat,” as they call it). It is at a height and shape it has never been in my life. My waistline, or saddlebags if you will, are also trimming way down. My back is tightening up. Muscles are starting to bulge out of my flexed quads and calves like they did when I played soccer in high school. My body is not perfect, not where the crazy part of my mind demands it be, but I am seeing the positive results. The more I see, the more fervently I devote to the classes.
So I’m in it, maybe all in it, working harder at quelling my self-abuse and finding a real acceptance for my body than anything else. If barre is the tool I need and makes my body healthier in the process, all the better. I’ll be there, obsessively shaking at the barre.
And just to up the ante, I am also doing the Whole30 challenge as part of my new commitment to the barre. Not to lose weight, not to starve myself but because my body needs the detox and the reset. And because it does not allow any weighing or measuring. I am going all in, striving to find my strength and my balance.
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