By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
Caption: Maya Dennis (left), Jillian Carter (center) and Alexis Miller (right), all work at Sidebarre, a Black-owned barre company that teaches classes in D.C. and Maryland. Carter, 24, formerly a pointe ballerina, started the company in January after she noticed a lack of diversity at mainstream barre studios.
“Shaking is a good thing,” barre instructor Maya Dennis tells a class of five students as they power through a complicated posture that finds them on their hands with one knee on the floor and the other bent leg moving up and down.
Dennis, 24, is one of three instructors at Sidebarre, one of a few Black-owned barre companies in the D.C. area.
For the uninitiated, barre is a low-impact workout that uses repeated isometric movements to tone muscles. You know you’re doing it right when your body quivers.
Incorporating elements from ballet, yoga, and Pilates, barre classes typically start with a warm-up, and offer individual movements tailored to strengthen legs, arms, glutes and the core. Instructors usually introduce a ballet barre into the workout. Weights are optional.
With more than 700 studios popping up in metropolitan areas, barre is one of the hottest trends in fitness. Boutique studios — which includes barre studios — are driving growth in the health care industry, with more than 20 million people claiming membership in a boutique studio, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association’s 2018 report. Women are more likely to visit yoga/Pilates/barre studios, the report said.
But when Jillian Carter, 24, a technically trained ballerina from Prince George’s County started taking barre at several chain studios two years ago, she noticed a diversity problem. She remembers being one of a few, if not the only Black student in class, and didn’t see any Black instructors, which made her feel isolated. The White women also weren’t as “warm and fuzzy” with her after class she would have liked, Carter said.
So in January, Carter launched Sidebarre, a company that welcomes people of color and employs three Black instructors — Carter, her cousin Alexis Miller and Dennis.
“I feel like in a lot of classes you don’t really see a lot of minorities and it really goes for other workout classes in this area,” Carter told the AFRO. “And so, I think our place is for the minorities to feel comfortable. It makes them the majority.”
The women lead $15 classes at Cycled! in Takoma Park, at the Dance Institute of Washington, and at the University of Maryland, College Park. In September, the ladies will add a fourth location — Joe’s Movement Emporium in Hyattsville. All three women are technically trained in ballet and draw on that experience to choreograph classes that last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
Sidebarre favors upbeat music that keeps you going. At a recent class Dennis taught, her playlist included songs from Cardi B., Beyoncé, Pharrell, India.Arie and Drake.
“We try to play music that people can sing along to,” Dennis told the AFRO. “I tell my class, ‘Sing if you want to.’ I feel like fitness should be fun, so we try to keep it fun and light-hearted for everybody.”
A sweaty Breanne Palmer, 27, of Silver Spring, said the soulful playlist helped her fight through some of the more complicated routines in Dennis’ energetic class that featured moves that she said left her feeling like she was “dying.”
“I love it, I love it a lot,” Palmer told the AFRO. “I feel like I’m shaking a lot and using a lot of muscles I haven’t worked.”
Carter’s working on finding a program to certify her and the instructors, marketing her business and launching a prenatal barre class. She would love to open a Sidebarre studio one day.
Until then, clients should embrace the beats and leave whatever isn’t serving them at the door.
“When working out, put all stuff to the side to focus and zone in on your workout to get the best out of it,” Carter said.