This is a Test: Passing the Bar

Will the latest fitness craze really give you that lithe and toned ballerina body? Anne Vickman gives it a twirl.


Illustration by Kirsten Ulve.

“You might wonder why your legs are shaking uncontrollably,” says McKenzie Howarth. She’s prepping me for the workout I’m about to try at her recently opened Bar Method studio — the first New England outpost of the buzzy San Francisco–based franchise. The idea is that intense isometrics (small, static movements), light weights, and stretching using a ballet barre will sculpt and lengthen the body. Thanks to the Black Swan–inspired ballet craze and to fitness buffs who crave tighter rear ends and abs, studios offering similar versions of this regimen have been popping up everywhere: Pure Barre in Newton opened this spring, and local gym Equinox now offers ballet-barre workouts. And celebs like Drew Barrymore and Anna Paquin have been singing its praises.

Howarth’s hourlong class works the whole body, and I hope to have an advantage: I run regularly and take aerial-arts classes. I also once danced in front of a crowd wearing Hammer pants during a recital when I was eight. How hard could this be? “Everybody is humbled by the Bar Method,” Howarth assures me.

We begin with 15 minutes of leg lifts, followed by a series of extended bicep curls and tricep squeezes using two- and three-pound weights. After that, we target the thighs: I put my heels together, creating a slight V, then raise them up and complete more than 100 squatlike pulses. And slacking isn’t an option: Howarth and her eagle-eyed co-instructor make hands-on adjustments to my form.

By the final set, my legs are indeed trembling. But shaking is good: It means I’m burning lots of calories, according to Howarth. My glutes and abs are also exhausted. But then comes the stretching… and relief.

I leave the class amazed that those minuscule movements made for such a beefy workout. Surprisingly, I’m not that sore — guess the running paid off. With several classes a week, I’d no doubt be on my way to a svelte dancer’s figure (watch out, Mila Kunis!), but for now I’m happy just to walk out the door on no-longer-quivering legs.

$195 for 30 days of unlimited classes; 234 Clarendon St., Boston, 617-236-4455,