Belly Up to the Barre

15 Aug

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Barre class.

When I mentioned to a friend that my co-worker, Allison, and I had gone to “barre” on Friday during our lunch hour, he said that noon seemed “early” to start drinking, even for me…While I support drinking at lunch and associate it with European sophistication, good fashion, and a high intellect, I was not noontime imbibing on (this particular) Friday. I was at barre class.

Unlike alcohol, which is an expensive yet relaxing, therapeutic hobby, “Barre” is known as an expensive, torturous one.

When Allison mentioned she goes regularly to barre classes and asked if I’d want to join, I enthusiastically said yes. (As I do to most things, without first thinking them through.)

At the time, I was reading Jessi Klein’s book, You’ll Grow Out of It, in which she discusses her personal barre journey (and a lot of other poignantly insightful and hilarious parts of her life). She talked about how intense the class is and how quickly it moves; how painful its effects can feel; how odd it is that the instructors refer to one’s ass as one’s “seat”; and how, despite all of its cons, the class will leave you with the tight cheeks of a five-year-old. I’d been warned, but I’d also been inspired.

Come Friday, I was ready. Despite the fact that she’d said I was forbidden to do so, I borrowed my sister’s Pure Barre socks, with the sticky dots on the bottom. I felt like a scrub-wearing high school biology student, about to conduct triple bypass surgery: vastly unprepared, yet dressed for the part.

Allison and I got to class with two minutes to spare. I went up to the very perky instructor:

“Hi, you’re Sophie, right? I saw that you registered online!”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s me!”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but you can’t do this class.”

She’d seen through my scrubs.

“Um…why?” I asked.

On the website, you indicated you’re new to barre, and I simply won’t have time to instruct you and then help you get set up. You’d be lost and confused. You’ll need to attend another class and arrive ten minutes early. It says so on the website.”

Internal questions, go!

First of all: why do you keep talking about “the website” like it’s your dear friend, Tina, whom I’ve just told can’t attend my birthday party because her feet smell like dog food and shrimp?

“Don’t apologize to me! Apologize to Tina.” TINA CAN STAND UP FOR HERSELF.

Second of all: “Lost and confused.” As if barre was some kind of deep-sea excavation journey, and I was attempting to dive into the depths of the ocean in a snorkel mask and a bikini…

Because Allison and I didn’t have time to simply, “attend another class,” I opted to put into action one of my most tried and trusted techniques: The Scrambler.

The Scrambler is simple. If someone tries to inconvenience you by asserting their tiny bit of authority and saying you simply “can’t” do something, or “won’t be able” to do something, you start acting confused yet lethargic. You think aloud, and ramble about scheduling concerns, and health issues, and deep-seeded insecurities…basically anything that will make the other person scramble to come up with an alternative plan and get you to shut up. (HINT: the “alternative plan” is you getting exactly what you’d wanted all along.)

Here is an example:

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you won’t be able to order the ‘Bird-On-Bird’ chicken and turkey sandwich until we start serving lunch at noon. It’s only 10AM.”

“Oh. That’s a real shame. I was so looking forward to it. I guess it’s alright, though. You know what? I’ll just call Ellen and tell her to meet me for lunch, instead of breakfast. Oh, but she has to get to her kid’s appointment this afternoon. Nope, it’s not looking good for little Suzie…not looking good at all. Last I checked, she still had the tiniest little tail, but I’m sure the doctors will work it out. But then again, maybe they won’t…We can never really be sure about anything in this life, you know?”

*Pause and gauge reaction*.

*If necessary, pivot the subject*.

“My mother raised us to be strict vegetarians. She always said I was a weak failure. This is why I eat sandwiches filled with multiple varieties of poultry. It’s a form of rebellion. But maybe she’s right? Maybe I am a failure?”

*Cue a reflective look and misty eyes*.

“I just want to take control of my own life, you know? I don’t want to be stuck under her green thumb for the rest of eternity. But it’s fine, don’t worry about the sandwich. It’s just a sandwich. It’s really…just…a…sandwich…”

Boom. The Poultry Prohibitionist is defenseless, and you gobble gobble down your sandwich for breakfast.

I looked at Allison, and put my plan into action.

“I can’t go later,” I said. “I have an appointment.”

“We can just head back to the office,” Allison offered.

“It’s fine,” I said, all mopey. “You go and have fun. I’ll just stay here and read. I brought a book. Oh wait, did I forget my book? Shoot, I did. No really, though, it’s fine. I’ll just sit here and sip water. Sippin’ and readin’. Oh wait, I forgot – I don’t have my book. Well then, I’ll just sit…right here…and…sip…water…”

I waited a beat, as the clock stuck 12:31 and Perky Peg’s students started to get restless.

“Ugh, whatever,” she said. “Just do the class. Allison will get you set up.”


I hastily changed into my outfit, leaving my hair in a “for work only” fancy braid and leaving all of my valuable possessions in the openness of the lobby.

By the time I got settled, the class was already kicking and plucking and pruning and whatever else they were doing. I took my place among them (in a remote corner of the room, against the wall) and tried to assimilate.

Because Perky Peg had been so curt and rude to me, I immediately wanted her to like me. I had to be the best student she had EVER SEEN. But not only that, I had to be her BEST FRIEND. I WOULD get an invite to her wedding! I WOULD be there for the birth of her twins! And MY ASS WOULD LOOK LIKE A FIVE YEAR OLD’S FOR ALL OF THESE MAJOR LIFE MOMENTS, DAMMIT. (If I were in therapy, I imagine this is the kind of long-standing, “win them with kindness” flaw that I would bring to my therapist’s attention.)

The thing about barre is that the instructor really is omnipresent. She wears a headset, which means her voice permeates the room, even when she’s not physically there. You can never really be sure where she’s standing, but she’ll occasionally call out praise or suggestions. She’s like the popular girl in school, and you’re an acquaintance who sometimes gets invited to Friday night “let’s try drinking Listerine” parties.

I was sure Perky Peg hated me and would let me contort my body into incorrect, potentially dangerous positions. I was sure I’d walk out of class with one leg wrapped around my neck and a hunchback.

But suddenly, an enthusiastic, “Good job Sophie!” boomed over the speakers. I instantly swiveled my neck, to see who’d called me. (I assumed I was the “Sophie,” which says something about how I view the world.) It couldn’t have been Perky Peg! She hates me!

But it was Perky who’d called me. Perky was watching me. She was in my head. She knew my thoughts and about that wine I’d had last night. She could smell it on me.

She started walking toward me. I wondered what kind of scene this would be in a movie. Would she make peace by initiating me into her popular group as “the Funny One Who Has a Good House for Parties”? Or, was she about to cut off a chunk of my hair and throw water on my white shirt, to expose my training bra in front of the other popular girls? I wondered if I should put my hair into a bun and hold onto my breasts, in preparation.

“Awesome job, girlfriend. Just move your seat forward a bit. Great work.”

Awesome job. Great work. Girlfriend. Seat.

I smiled and silently wondered what I should get “The Twins” for their first birthday…


The next day, I couldn’t move my arms. My abs felt bruised, like I’d drunkenly ridden a mechanical bull and belly flopped onto a steel rod. My arms ached, like I’d spent all night physically – and financially – supporting my entire family’s weight. It hurt to climb stairs. It hurt to sit on my couch. It hurt to close and open my eyes. My hair hurt. It hurt to pick up a fork. It hurt to look at a fork, knowing that I couldn’t pick it up.

I was a barre girl.
















One Response to “Belly Up to the Barre”


  1. He Loves Me, He Loves My Back | A Series of Tom Fooleries - September 25, 2016

    […] use, or trying to text less, I decided to go to a physically strenuous barre class. (See my post about barre classes to understand what this […]

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