step up to the barre

photos by Gene Puskar



yms are usually bustling this time of year with people looking to get rid of that last bit of pumpkin pie thigh. While boot camp-style workouts have been extremely popular, there’s a new trend that dials back into a more feminine style of exercise, with a goal of building a long, lean dancer’s body, instead of muscley bulk. Barre fitness classes meld theories of Pilates with a little bit of body sculpting and stretching, often using the ubiquitous ballet class handrail and a posture concept or two learned from Swan Lake etudes.

Pure Barre is a barre fitness franchise started in Michigan in 2001.  Valleyview Road resident Melissa Evancic opened hers at 1612 Cochran Road this month to rave reviews and packed classes. While some area gyms have barre classes, her studio is wholly dedicated to the workout. On a recent chilly morning, Evancic greeted class members at the front desk of the studio, her hair pulled back chicly into a relaxed bun and her lithe figure fitting the dancer’s body prototype.

As class members filed into the studio, instructor Rebecca Wasson first explained to the newcomers how to do a “tuck” by pulling in the belly button toward the back, like “pulling on a pair of skinny jeans that your husband accidentally threw in the dryer.”

Pure Barre owner Melissa Evancic
Pure Barre owner Melissa Evancic

Anyone who has ever take a Pilates or body sculpting class will be familiar with some of the moves during the 60-minute classes: bicep curls, shoulder presses, push-ups, 100s (sitting on the floor, legs raised a few inches, arms pulsing at the sides). With the exception of posture, the class really had no ballet moves, so that part shouldn’t be intimidating for those without ballet experience. Some of the other moves are unusual and hard to describe. In one exercise, Wasson had class members stand at the barre and place a small 6-inch round rubber ball between their inner thighs. They stood on tiptoes “like you’re wearing your highest pair of heels” with knees bent (while not dropping the ball). They then squeezed the ball with their thighs, slowly at first and then in time with the music. Within minutes, most of the class’s legs were shaking from exertion. “It’s OK if your legs are shaking; that’s just your muscles changing,” Wasson said.

What makes it difficult is that the moves are small with lots of repetition. If you have a raised leg, for instance, you move it up an inch and down an inch. If you’re holding the weights in front of you, you move them out a smidge and back a smidge. Because there’s no swinging of limbs, you can’t cheat. In other moves, class members faced the mirror with both hands on the barre and leaned backwards into a stretch. This required great confidence that the barre was not going to shear off at the wall, a comment that drew a laugh from both Evancic and Wasson. (Clearly, they’d been asked it before.) Wasson says she spent a week in Denver learning the technique, and while she also teaches traditional fitness classes like Spinning, she enjoys the creativity allowed with the barre style.

As part of a comprehensive exercise program, the class fits in where a Pilates or yoga class would be. There’s not much cardio, so that would need to be added in order to see the benefits of the muscle toning in class. Pure Barre offers several packages, and classes can be selected by joining for a designated period of time or by purchasing a number of classes that expire after a year. A new member special is $99 for a month of unlimited classes.

Details and membership information: online at and on Facebook: