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Out There: Raising The Barre

“My name is Susan, and I’m just trying to get back to running. Oh, and achieve WORLD PEACE through cardio.”

“My name is Susan, and I’m just trying to get back to running. Oh, and achieve WORLD PEACE through cardio.”

As my knee rehabilitation continues, I’ve been given approval to incorporate low-impact cardio to gradually build up my strength and fitness. Not one for the weight machines at the gym, I took a friend’s advice to sign up for barre, a combination of pilates, yoga, and ballet dancing.

I figured I was well-suited to the task, because I throw a lot of dance parties in my office to combat writer’s block. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I’m a pretty good dancer. Aside from my white-girl-from-Wisconsin heritage, a complete lack of spatial awareness, and the fact that I’m deaf, I’m practically Beyonce’s twin.

I also figured barre would provide a good opportunity to wear tights. Ladies, you understand my logic – yoga pants and tights are the greatest invention ever, right? My handlers usually insist that I wear “real” pants when I go out in public. I’m not sure why, but I can only assume it’s because they’re not ready for this jelly. (The similarities between me and Beyonce continue! B, have your people call my people. We’ll do lunch, mm-kay?)

And so, armed with a pair of running tights and a Groupon deal, I went to my first barre class.

It was obvious from the moment I stepped in the studio I’d be a bit out of place. There were many sets of eyes looking at me, all of them connected to a beauty pageant contestant. I had missed the memo to lose ten pounds, grow six inches taller, and wear makeup.

The instructor, Brittany, had us sit in a circle and share our name, as well as what we hoped to get out of the next ten weeks:

“My name is Veronica, and I’m trying to tone up for my wedding!”

“Hi! I’m Jenna, and I want to have better posture!”

“Hello! I’m Maddison with two Ds, tee-hee! And I’m getting long and lean!”

Brittany smiled and turned to me. “And who are you?”

“Um, hey,” I waved, “I’m Susan. And I’m just trying to get back to running.”

Brittany and the beauty queens smiled at me, blankly, like I had just answered in a foreign language. I contemplated changing my answer to something more acceptable (“I’m trying to achieve WORLD PEACE through cardio!”) but instead sheepishly looked down at my chipping toenail polish.

“Well, then!” chirped Brittany, “let’s get started, girls!”

The next sixty minutes can only be described as slow, controlled torture. Barre class is a deceptive little bugger – turns out pointing your toes and making tiny movements with grace is actually hard. Really hard.

While contorted into pilès and leg lifts and arm holds, Veronica, Jenna, and Madison glistened with little beads of perspiration. I discreetly checked my armpit to make sure I had remembered to wear deodorant and felt a longing for running and triathlon. I am far better suited to sports in which I can blow snot rockets and pee on myself.

Brittany walked up and down the bar, smiling and touching each class member on the shoulder:

“Great job, Veronica! That’s it, Jenna. Nice form, Maddison.”

I stood-up extra straight and smiled at Brittany, only to be met with a what-the-hell-are-you-doing glare.

“Um. No, Susan. Push your butt in. Pelvis forward. No, not that forward. Okay, now elongate your spine. No, don’t arch your back. Pick up your toes. Stop. No. No. No. Copy Maddison. See what Maddison is doing? She’s doing it right. Do it like Maddison!”

Flustered, I tried to adjust, silently cursing my physique for its ineptitude. I can run a marathon, even do an Ironman triathlon, but barre? Some things in my body just wouldn’t…bend that way. I hated Brittany. I hated Veronica. I hated Jenna. And I really hated Maddison with two Ds.

As I looked in the mirror, comparing myself to the beauty queens, I made my peace with the sad truth:

I am not Beyonce.

While all the girls were showing perfect form with relative ease, I awkwardly stumbled through the exercises with quivering muscles. The end of the class provided a sweet release as I dropped my hand weights in the basket, gathered my purse and rushed out to before anyone could see my embarrassment. I’d gift the remaining nine sessions to a friend – no way would I be able to show my face next week.

Fumbling with the keys to my car, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Turning, I came face-to-face with Maddison.

“Hey. Nice job today, Susan.”

My brow wrinkled in confusion as I tried to comprehend what was taking place: Are you mocking me, lady?

“You’re a runner, right?” She smiled. “I’ve always wanted to do a marathon, but I think it’d be too hard.”

Immediately, my defenses were dropped. “It’s not that hard, actually! You just have to work at it! I’d be happy to help you get started.”

“Yeah, I said the same thing about barre!” Maddison giggled. “It’s so hard when you start, but then it gets easier!”

We spent the next five minutes in the parking lot, talking and laughing. After exchanging e-mail addresses, I got in the car and smiled to myself.

As I write this column, two days later, I hurt. Everywhere. It hurts when I lift my coffee cup. It hurts when I cough. It hurts when I pee (that last one may or may not be related to Barre class). It hurts in the exact same way it did when I started running a few years ago, and in the exact same way it’s probably going to hurt when I’m cleared to start running again.

Next week, I’ll be back in barre class. This time, I’ll bring a few running articles for my new friend Maddison, and she’s going to meet me a few minutes early to help me work on my form. When Brittany circles us up at the beginning of class, I’ll be the first one to offer up my introduction:

“My name is Susan, and I’m just trying to get back to running. Oh, and achieve WORLD PEACE through cardio.”


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke