What Is Pure Barre?

2 Months of Pure Hell Barre ;-D

OK, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: although my little cousin is an instructor, I am not contracted in any way by Pure Barre as an instructor, employee or owner. I also have a background in dance and dance education. Read on….

I discovered Pure Barre around the beginning of this year, when word of a location opening on Magazine Street came to my attention. I figured, great! I’ve been dancing all of my life and am in reasonably fair shape, so this so be a good way to get toned up like I was in my glory days. Had an opportunity to try a class for free, so I went in expecting to get a good cardio boost and decent muscle workout.

Yeah….apparently in my case the PB stood for Punk….well, I’m sure you can figure it out. Pure Barre is 55 minutes of balletic positions, Pilates, yoga, isometrics and stretches in repetition to the point of muscle fatigue, which comes in the guise of visible shaking while trying to properly execute the movements. I have never in my memory quivered so badly and felt so wholly inadequate in doing an exercise regimen–particularly something involved with or inspired by dance. Follow that with me feebly crawling out of bed the next morning and it seemed a safe assumption that Pure Barre was just not gonna happen for me. And then….my 21 year old nephew decides to get married in September. Which means a dress. Which means I have seven months to tone and slim so that I don’t look like a fatty next to my uberskinny mother and sister. *sigh* I’m still not ready to try Pure Barre again, so thanks to my husband’s PS3 I have a few months of EA Active 2 and Zumba to help build my stamina and strength to survive another round. Along comes the 2-month Bikini-Ready special, and after weeks of contemplation and a drive over I register before I can talk myself out of it.

This class is no walk in the park. Naturally, I don’t expect to skate through it since that would have no positive effect on improving my fitness level. But this is WORK. Sweaty, grit your teeth, gasp for air WORK. Looking at it, the moves are deceptively simple and usually very small. But they get to muscles you don’t realize you had–until you see them start shaking (and you generally see them shake before you feel it). Then after a few sessions you start to see your muscles lengthen out and build. After a month (about 20 classes in my case) I looked down and my thighs and saw…well, less of them than there was a few weeks ago. There’s long, lean, rock-hard muscle there without the bodybuilder bulk. I haven’t stopped touching them since, for fear that they might be a figment of my imagination. Then there are the clothes that took an act of Congress to get into and a while to break in enough to be able to move….that just slip on with the first try. The dumbbell-pumping portion of class when you catch a glimpse of an Angela-Bassett worthy bicep, or when you look in the mirror and see actual back MUSCLES instead of back fat. Hard as it is to get through a class (and at almost two months it has not gotten any easier to do the exercises), this stuff works.

Pure Barre’s mantra is “lift.tone.burn”. All are perfectly accurate, because you will definitely feel that deep burn as your work to lift and tone those muscles while you mentally curse the cheerfully helpful sadists running your class. (I say that with completely affection…at least while I’m at the keyboard and not in the studio at the barre or on the mats). I do have to say that aside for a healthy appreciation for the number 10 (the usual default number of reps before the end of a set), I am truly digging the Barre. I have to figure out the best and most economical way to keep it up–there are home products in the form of DVDs, podcasts and the signature equipment but you also need to make a few modifications AND have the staying power to push through on your own. Knowing that I am notoriously lazy, this will be a great challenge. But as I revisit high school skinny (or at the very least, college fine), even though it’s tough I believe I can strap on my war gear and do battle with the Barre.

License to parent?

A few days ago I read a story about yet another mother leaving her kids in a hot car, and it raises questions for me again regarding policing people’s rights to be parents. Summertime is HOT. Cars in summertime are REALLY hot–you’ve got to be able to figure that out when you first get into the car and rush to turn on the A/C. Leaving BABIES in hot cars is just criminal. Rather than throw these idiots in jail, perhaps they should be sentenced to spending their own quality time locked in a sweltering car. It’s stories like this that make me wonder whether or not people should have to take classes and be licensed to be parents (or even to procreate in the first place–thought THAT particular thought, borrowed from my father, is usually expressed a touch more crudely). So many instances of child neglect and usually from parents who are still basically children themselves–somehow these new-school parents need education and support in order to successfully raise these babies beyond single digit ages.

My Black is Beautiful…and FLASHY!

(Wow I talk a lot! I just started typing and all of this came out. It’s a long one, folks, but stick with it….it’s pretty entertaining.)

Anyone who knows me well knows that two of my very favorite things are dancing and attention. What better way to combine the two than to throw a flash mob?

My Black Is Beautiful, an initiative from Proctor and Gamble that “celebrates the diverse collective beauty of African-American women and nurtures black self-esteem” (direct quote from the website), came down to New Orleans this Fourth of July weekend as one of the host sponsors of the annual Essence Music Festival. They usually host a pavilion inside the Ernest J. Morial Convention Center (this year being no exception) but decided a little more exposure was needed.

Flash back a couple of weeks when I open my email and see a message from Flash Mob America–“New Orleans Flash Mob–Calling all African-American Women near New Orleans!”  Yeah…you had me at “New Orleans Flash Mob.” Last year I tried–unsuccessfully–to kick off a flash mob for the first annual National Dance Day that So You Think You Can Dance helped kick into gear. So there was no way short of me being kidnapped that I was going to miss this opportunity. So I registered and awaited further instructions. Got my reply email a day or two later with this link to the dance:

Oooooookay…..that’s fast. But I’m a trooper, so I spend the better part of an evening watching that and a (thankfully) much slower tutorial from the choreographer, Zakk Manzella. A really cool guy, by the way.

After I practice and practice and feel reasonably comfortable with the routine save the Dougie and the booty pop (lotta booty, not much pop), I re-read the email to double-check for any rehearsal or location info I might have missed. And…..I come across this sentence:

“Because this is a paid position, we need to confirm your participation.”

I’m sorry…pay? May I repeat that you had me at “New Orleans Flash Mob”? I had to re-read several times just to make sure my one good eye wasn’t playing tricks on me. This–however small, after all of the audition rejections I’ve had in my life–would constitute my first professional dance gig. I was SO STOKED!

A week goes by and I get repeats of the original email (this time with a dance version shot from the rear so I can follow a little better), but still no rehearsal or performance locations included. I’m getting a little worried–after all, I want to make sure I can get my hair and makeup done (my Black might be beautiful, but my beautiful needed a little assistance–ESPECIALLY in the New Orleans summer heat) and still be able to get a nap in before going in to work that night. I go to bed that Wednesday night–the end of my work “weekend”–resigned to yet another mob falling through and taping myself doing the routine just because.

At 6:58 am the morning of June 30, I finally get an email with rehearsal and location info–rehearsal’s at 1:00 pm, so I have to cancel one of my Pure Barre classes to get home and fix my own hair and makeup, thanking God and any hair deities I decided to roll up the sections after hot-curling them, because the studio was HOT! I may have sweated off most of my makeup in rehearsal! However, I’d like to thank the ladies (and gentlemen?) of Body In Motion studio in Metairie for their hospitality–and I did happen to notice the pole dance studio…I may be back.

Most of us had spent a good bit of quality time with Zakk on YouTube before we showed up, but some were learning for the first time. I did my best to stay in student mode–that is, until I noticed a young teenage girl struggling with the steps. I was proud of her for even showing up in this room full of grown women, so I made it my mission to help her out. Nigeria (I hope I remembered her name right) was getting frustrated to the point of tears because she wasn’t catching on–not to mention being the only kid in the room. And even though she kept getting stuck in spots, to say she had only gotten the video mere hours before the rehearsal and was doing the steps she did get was pretty incredible. I kept playing teacher and cheerleader because I really wanted her to participate. Dancers kept coming in waves, so there was a quiet spell where Zakk wasn’t busy working with the larger group and took over. Another one of the dancers and I stayed behind and practiced with them–the other girl probably to catch the parts she missed, but I stayed mainly to keep cheering Nigeria on and making her feel more comfortable. We just kept going through the steps slowly and then gradually picking up the speed until she got it all the way through with the music. I couldn’t help it–I had to hug her, I was so proud. Her mom, who had been in the room the whole time, thanked me for helping her out. I’d brought my now-working digital camera and had her take a picture of the two of us, which is one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen despite the rollers and head rag in my hair (lol). Then her mom showed me a picture of Nigeria in her phone–apparently my budding dancing diva is a print model! I’ll have to Google her, but she’s got a promising career if that glam shot was any indication. Before we left for the location she asked me if she could dance by me, which I said absolutely to despite the fact that I had planned to do that anyway. (I didn’t find her until after the mob, so that didn’t happen, but she did dance the whole thing through!)

So now I’m on my way to my first ever in-person flash mob–so excited that I didn’t get exact location instructions. Luckily for me (and because I know the City of New Orleans so well) I decide to valet park my car at the JW Marriott to guarantee it won’t get ticketed or towed. Special occasions tend to bring that out in our meter maids….but I digress. As I’m about to leave I realize the shirt they gave me to wear is on the front seat of my car–which just drove up several levels. Thankfully, I ran across two of the girls from rehearsal, sisters Danielle and Giselle, who had an extra t-shirt to save me from running the valet up to my car. I decided to wait for them and walk over together to Bourbon Street. We started to feel more comfortable about the direction we were walking once we saw various clumps of black “My Black Is Beautiful” t-shirts sprinkled down the way. We wound up congregating in what I think is the courtyard of Arnaud’s Restaurant–the “park” where we’d be dancing. Of course, there were a good number of people milling around, wondering why all of these black women in black shirts and leggings were lingering on Bourbon Street (I chose not to use the word “loitering,” as Rick’s Cabaret and a couple other “adult establishments” were right next door). We tried to spread out and be pretty vague around our answers, but some people figured out what was going on–and being New Orleans and the French Quarter, stuck around…because there’s always a good show somewhere in the Quarter, so why not be part of it? (Some of the video cameras might have tipped them off, too! lol) I busied myself reading the various restaurant menus posted on the outside walls and “pretending” to be a tourist taking pictures on the scene. I wasn’t bold enough to pretend to have a phone conversation, having forgotten to take off my Bluetooth but leaving the phone in the car. After a while, the police barricade off our section of Bourbon (which was going to happen later that evening anyway) and four of the girls have broken off and put on bathrobes, pajamas, an off-the-shoulder top and a beautician’s cape….a strange sight anywhere, except of course Bourbon Street in New Orleans. After a few more minutes (and the announcer at the restaurant pretty much blowing the surprise by ANNOUNCING us–I think (hope) just the restaurant patrons heard him), the four girls launch into a skit, which is our cue to pay attention, creep closer and get ready. This is the result:

(I get two pretty decent bits of face time at 1:25 and 1:35)

In a blink, it was over. The crowd enjoyed themselves fully. And my new friend Giselle, who opted out and lent me her shirt, wound up in the video anyway (she’s the one with the camera in the pink shirt). Folks, I have to tell you–I was up since 7:00 that morning, got no nap in between and went straight to work for 10 hours after that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That was the most fun I’ve had in a while, and I really hope one shows up for National Dance Day this year. Even if I have to try it again. This time, I’ve got experience and connections–look out New Orleans!

(SIDE NOTE: Big ups to the camera crew for a) posting it in two days and b) the fabulous edit job they did. We danced to a longer version of that song (with a LOT of improvisation) but they still managed to cut the music and video to the “correct” version without too much break in continuity. Bravo guys!)