Bellying up to the barre…

Seven things to know before walking through the doors of Richmond Barre, one of RVA’s favorite spots to give this new workout craze a whirl.

When I started running a little over a year ago, I noticed a change pretty much right away. In addition to feeling significantly less crazy in the head,1 things that were once plumper and softer than I would’ve prefered started to slim down and tone up. So I kept running (more often, faster, and for longer distances) and things kept toning. Running, toning, running, toning–it was fantastic.

Until a couple months ago when that all just sort of stopped. I hit the dreaded fitness plateau. Even though I still loved running, my body was totally unimpressed with my pavement-pounding efforts. I needed to switch things up–at least for a bit, just to remind my body who’s in charge around here.

I soon found myself2 standing in front of a ballet barre with about 15 other women, squeezing a rubber ball between my legs over and over again, a voice around me chanting, “And tuck…and tuck…and tuck…”3

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call Richmond Barre.

Opened in April 2012 by former critical care nurse and lifelong athlete Ashley Hudson, Richmond Barre Studio offers classes focused on (as you probably guessed) the barre technique. The barre technique combines principles of ballet, yoga, and Pilates to improve your flexibility and range of motion, strengthen your core, and tone your muscles.

And, guys? The classes at Richmond Barre are no joke. We’re talking 60 minutes of intense W-O-R-K-all-caps-work–and fun, of course, but work all the same. You’ll leave tired. You’ll leave sweatier than you ever thought possible.

Lest I scare you away from this RVA fitness treasure, let me also add this: you’ll leave feeling awesome.

After one (yes! ONE!) class I noticed changes. The muscles in my shoulders looked stronger, as did my legs which have always been my big “problem area.”

And let’s talk about my abs.

<Sighs wistfully, looks off into the distance, brushes away a slowly trickling tear>

The very same abs that have spent the last four-and-a-half years stubbornly refusing any and all efforts to return them to their former glory ever since I had the nerve to get knocked up with what would end up being a 10-pound baby. I peered down at my torso the day after that Richmond Barre class and saw…definition–a glimpse of how things once were, what they someday could be again.4

Because life has a habit of getting in the way of things, I haven’t been able to make it back to Richmond Barre yet, but I’m champing at the bit to get over there. In the meantime, on the days I don’t run, I do my best to replicate some of the movements I learned during my time there. Turns out they were just what I needed to push through that plateau and get my body back with the program.

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that Richmond Barre is something everyone5 needs to try. But if you’re anything like me, enthusiasm over something new gets quickly squashed by thoughts of “OMG UNCHARTED TERRITORY NOOOOOOOO.” Fear not, friends. I’ve got a handful of tips to prep you for your first class so you can hit the ground running. Or plié-ing. Whatever, you get the idea.

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1. Say yes to leggings, no to shorts.

Richmond Barre is exercise, so you’ll want to wear comfortable clothes that let you move. But please keep in mind that you’ll be doing a lot of stretching, squatting, lunging, and lifting of your legs into various positions. Opt for workout pants, leggings, or capris paired with a more fitted tank or T-shirt to keep things “contained”, if you will.

2. Drink water. Then drink more water. And hey, have some more!

Hydrating after exercising is a no-brainer, but it doesn’t always occur to me to do it beforehand. I’ll have you know that the amount of sweat produced by this workout was astounding. Do yourself a favor and pound the water before, during, and after class–well after. Like all the livelong day.

3. Come early to scope things out and meet your instructor.

As I mentioned, new things can be very scary for me. New things that involve me moving my body around in a space occupied by other people are even scarier. In an effort to calm my nerves a bit, I made a point to show up about 15 minutes before class started just to get a feel for the space and the dynamics of the group–where to put my shoes, if certain people had preferred spaces in the studio, etc. I also got a chance to meet Ashley (aforementioned owner/instructor) who filled me in on what I should expect from the class after I filled her in on what she should expect from me: lack of coordination, general confusion, and so on. Ashley’s genuine interest and easy-going6 demeanor assuaged my fears right away, as did the greetings I got from my fellow students. Building in some time to chat with the people I’d be spending the next 60 minutes with definitely gave the class a “we’re all in this together” feel. Consequently, I found myself more able to focus on the workout itself rather than unhelpful thoughts of “I’m doing it wrong and everyone is looking at me.”

4. Just go with it.

That said, at first you very well could be doing it wrong (but don’t worry, no one is looking at you…probably). Some of the movements you’ll do during your workout at Richmond Barre will feel a little awkward–especially if you don’t have much experience with dance, yoga, or Pilates. But when it comes to exercise, switching it up is a good thing! Be a good sport, keep your eyes on your instructor, and just go with it until it feels right (which it will).

5. Let the music be your guide.

Every. single. person I spoke to before our class started mentioned “Ashley’s music”, just praising her DJing skills to high heaven. I smiled and nodded but wasn’t really sure why it was such a big deal. I mean, it’s just workout music. Put on some Jock Jams and let’s do this thing, ammirite?

Now I get it.

During Richmond Barre’s classes, the music isn’t just on in the background to cover up the sound of your classmates’ groans and whimpers. The instructors use it to set the pace of the class, and the students can use it to figure out what’s coming next. Another fast song means you’re about to switch from one movement that makes you feel like you’re about to die to a different movement that makes you feel like you’re about to die. A slower song means it’s time for a nice, therapeutic stretch before you move right back into something that makes you feel like you’re about to die. So keep your ears open. Knowing what to expect makes the whole experience seem much less daunting.

6. Remember: smaller is better.

I mean as far as movement goes. No jumping jacks or burpees here, guys. Barre is all about small, controlled movements (“isometrics” if you want to be fancy) that sculpt and tone the muscles–movement sometimes so small that a few times during the class I looked around and couldn’t even tell if some people were actually moving. That is, until everyone started shaking. Which brings me to my final point…

7. Surrender to the shake.

Don’t let the low-impact nature of barre fool you; this is a workout. As you stand at the barre completing what feels like your 80,000th plié, your muscles will probably begin to shake. Possibly violently. Don’t freak out7. That’s how you know it’s working.

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Richmond Barre Studio is located at 5703 Grove Avenue. Classes are offered seven days a week; check the website for specific class descriptions and times. Registration is required. Classes fill quickly, but they encourage you to use their waiting list option; email notifications get sent out should a spot open up. The cost is $15 per class with pricing packages available. Students get a 10 percent discount with a valid ID. Visit or call 804-282-3330 for more information.

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  1. More on that here and here
  2. Full disclosure: Richmond Barre comped me one class so I could check it out for myself. Opinions expressed here are all coming from me, myself, and I. 
  3. This basically involves pulling your abs in and tilting your pelvis forward. Over and over again. 
  4. I know I’m being dramatic, but, guys, I had really great abs. 
  5. Dudes too! 
  6. Don’t be fooled by her sweet smile and kind face. She works you hard. 
  7. Really, they aren’t going to let you overdo it. Ashley has an amazing sense of how long people can keep at a specific movement. She pushes you juuuuuuuuust until you’re about to fall over and then deftly moves the class along to the next exercise. 

Photo courtesy of Richmond Barre

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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