GET MORE FROM YOUR BALLET BARRE
BY. Kathryn McLane
As a dancer, I was somewhat skeptical of the barre class craze. Admittedly, I was worried that I wouldn’t be as strong as I was in my glory days. However, a few months ago, I had the pleasure (and the challenge) of taking a class co-taught by Mabel Modrono and her twin sister at Exhale in Stamford, CT. I asked Mabel to share her story with TiLLT and to provide some insight into her barre classes.
Mabel was born in Cuba and was raised in Miami. She started dancing at the age of ten when her sister fell in love with ballet. “I saw that she was getting all this attention, and I wanted it too” she joked. She later trained at the School of American Ballet before joining the Miami City Ballet with her sister. Here, she met her husband, and both she and her sister became principal dancers before moving on together to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Mabel then performed on Broadway in Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out and in The Phantom of the Opera. Now, she teaches barre and cardio classes at Exhale, where she is also the Mind Body Manager.
TiLLT: How would you describe a barre class to our readers?
MM: A barre class is a class where you use your whole body. It’s really about sculpting, toning, and finding your center. It’s the closest thing to using the muscles you use in dance, and the more you do it, the better you feel.
There’s no workout like ballet. The whole concept of the ballet barre and then moving across to the floor - to me there’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s full body, heart, and mind, and it’s stored in my heart like a beautiful gift. I treasure it. The thing that comes closet is barre. When you have a good class with a good flow and you challenge yourself, it’s the next best thing.
Exhale uses its own branded barre technique in which is used at all of their locations.
TiLLT: How did you find your way to the barre?
MM: I went through a foot injury, which led me to hurt the other foot. After four surgeries, I didn’t know if I was going to dance again. I left Pittsburgh Ballet because my husband was in New York, and I just didn’t know if I was going to get the strength back in my feet again... I interviewed for a job to teach barre in the Hamptons, and then I began working for Lotte Berk [the originator of barre exercise methods]. Next thing I knew, I started getting strength back in my legs and feet, and then I began dancing on Broadway. I thank barre because barre gave me the strength, and that’s why I believe in it now.
TiLLT: So, do you need to be a dancer to enjoy or excel in a barre class?
MM: No, not at all! Actually, those who don’t dance should probably take barre because they’ve never experienced those small muscles that dancers use – the inner and outer thigh, the stretching of the Achilles, the lengthening of your lower back. We also stretch a lot, so you get those sinewy muscles. The length and strength you find while creating muscle is the beauty of it.
TiLLT: How do you balance different levels of experience and capability in one class?
MM: Exhale is all about modification. We offer modifications and look at form and placement so that everyone can take the class. We always show the modifications, and that way people don’t get hurt.
TiLLT: How do you keep your students focused and motivated when they start to feel the burn?
MM: I try to call them out by name to encourage them. I know what they’re going through because I take the classes myself. I encourage them to stay with me and listen to the rhythm of the music. I let them know the final destination – just 30 more! I guide them with my voice and my words so that they won’t give up and can reach the next level.
TiLLT: Would you recommend that your students mix barre classes with other types of exercise? Or can we go all barre all the time?
MM: I would recommend changing it up. I just think it’s good for you. You know, ice cream is great – why just have one flavor? Even though we all have a favorite that we go back to, it’s good to try other things too. But, I do recommend that you do barre at least three to four times a week. If not, you’re starting all over again.
TiLLT: Do you have any advice for beginners?
MM: Come at least three times a week so you can really feel and see the difference. Never get frustrated. Never compare yourself to someone else. Just give yourself that challenge so you can feel better.