Barre Boutique raises the barre for RVA

Dance-inspired exercise classes have a new venue in town.

A new studio in Carytown offers popular exercise classes inspired by ballet.

The Barre Boutique opened its doors late January, and owner Katie Gilstrap is already delighted by the reception. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the response we’ve received,” Gilstrap said. “It’s been extremely positive.”

Interestingly, the Richmond native1 and co-founder of Lift Caregiving only took her first barre class last spring. “I tried just about everything that was out there,” Gilstrap said: going to the gym, swimming, running. She even hired a personal trainer. “I never really loved any of it.”

It was while traveling in New York City last year that Gilstrap first enrolled in a barre class. “I was hooked,” she said. Not only did she discover a “wonderful community of people,” but within a short amount of time she noticed “dramatic changes in my body” as a result of the regular exercise.

Gilstrap described barre–named after the waist-level bar that ballet dancers use while practicing–as a “fusion of ballet, yoga, and Pilates.” While those activities typically thrive in serene settings, she said barre classes differ in that music energizes the workout. On a physical level, Gilstrap said barre uses “sprints of high-symmetric intervals, followed by deep stretches…designed to build long, lean muscles and develop the physique of a dancer.”

In other words, she said if your legs quiver during a workout, “you’re doing it right.”

Until she opened Barre Boutique earlier this year, Richmonders could only take barre classes at Richmond Barre on Patterson Avenue and Local Barre in Short Pump. “There weren’t many options in Richmond,” Gilstrap said. “It just seemed as though there was an opportunity to create a really [technique-focused] class.”

Having taken classes in Miami, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York City, Gilstrap observed that a “great location with really great instructors” is necessary for a successful barre studio.

A location presented itself last year when Gilstrap happened upon the building at the corner of Colonial and Cary streets. Not only was the Carytown location in one of the most desirable shopping districts in the city, adjacent to it was a free parking deck. As a bonus, the location had a history of housing successful businesses like Carytown Cupcakes and For the Love of Chocolate.

With a location set, all she needed was the right people.

From left to right: instructors Julie Smith, Lauren Fagone and Sarah Ruppel Bullis

From left to right: Julie Smith, Lauren Fagone and Sarah Ruppel Bullis

She found three dancers: Lauren Fagone, a current member of the Richmond Ballet; Julia Smith, a retired dancer with the local ballet company; and Symoné Anthony, current student and member of VCU’s dance team. Each were trained by master barre instructor Amy Barnes Morgan of The Barre Code in Alexandria, VA.

“Our instructors are trained to give one-on-one attention,” Gilstrap said. This helps create an environment where people of all skills levels feel welcomed.

“When you go to a traditional gym as a female…it can be an intimidating experience,” Gilstrap said. “We want to be the opposite of that. We want to be an encouraging place.” Although most Barre Boutique customers are women, Gilstrap said men are slowly “finding their way to the barre.”

To help bring barre to both women and men, Barre Boutique will expand its schedule of classes sometime in April when Richmond Ballet faculty member Sarah Ruppel Bullis joins the team of instructors.

“We’re still learning what the prime class times are,” Gilstrap said. Currently, Barre Boutique classes are typically held on early weekday mornings and evenings, as well as weekend afternoons. Gilstrap’s considering adding Friday night classes and weekday lunch-hour classes to accommodate customer preferences. But as Barre Boutique grows, she said she’ll limit class sizes to 12 to ensure quality.

“Our hopes are to help more people become the best version of themselves,” Gilstrap said.

Single classes cost $15, with packaged deals available for a select number of classes ($70 – $220) and unlimited attendance ($200 – $250/month).

Barre Boutique is located at 2820 C S. Colonial Street in Carytown.

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  1. She currently teaches marketing and business at both VCU and UR. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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