“Someone Save Me From This Fresh Hell: My First Barre Class,” Brenna Donovan

Sep 26th, 2018 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I first encountered the new barre studio in my neighborhood as I was walking home after meeting my coworkers for drinks. The light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows and illuminating the crisp white walls and hardwood floors caught my attention right away. Suddenly I had flashbacks of my high school days as a pink leotard-clad ballet dancer, standing gracefully at the barre as I plied and pirouetted to my heart’s content. Closing my eyes, I once again had lean, toned legs and impeccable posture, daintily brushing tiny droplets of sweat from my brow.

Sure, I had a slight buzz going, but who doesn’t at 8 PM on a Wednesday?

The location was perfect—I practically flat-out refuse to do anything outside of a three-block radius of my apartment—and everyone looked so cheerful. I promptly went in and purchased a membership. There was no backing out now.

I waltzed into my first barre class a week later with a sleek ponytail and a determined smile, just as the previous class was getting out. A gaggle of twenty-somethings with glowing skin and brightly patterned leggings filed out of the studio, laughing and saying things like “Let’s go get froyo, we deserve it!” and “Oh my god you’re so bad!” (This place opened last week, how do these people already know each other?)

The studio walls were lined with full-length mirrors, which was great because I could see just how wide and low my butt was compared with the perkier ones in class. I pulled my spandex higher and thought about Beyoncé. Soon, my glutes would rival even the queen’s herself. And at $20 a class, they had better.

Everyone looked fit and relaxed, like they did this all time, and I started to get a little nervous. Sure, it had been a few weeks (months?) since I had exercised, but I was a former dancer. Barre class was nothing.

It wasn’t nothing. In fact, it was so much something I could barely stand it. I had listed my husband as my emergency contact on the forms I filled out before class, but I should have cut out the middleman and just put 9-1-1.

The teacher bounced around the room wearing a Britney Spears-style headset so we could hear her over the electronic music pumping through the speakers. We gathered in the center of the room for what she assured us would be a “brief warm-up.”

We then proceeded to do squats for ten minutes straight. No break.

“Think happy thoughts!” the perky teacher yelled. Instead, I started thinking things like What sweet hell is this? and I didn’t know my pinky toe had muscles.

My water bottle glistened just out of reach.

At some point I must have blacked out, because I came to and realized we were still doing squats, except this time on our toes and holding weights above our heads. I didn’t even remember getting weights. They were the size of Barbie’s dumbbells during her jazzercise phase, but somehow it felt like I was holding a portly child in the air.

I should have worn a sweatband.

I glanced my neighbor, hoping to exchange can you believe this shit? looks in the mirror, but her veins were bulging from her forehead so I decided I’d better not.

Soon we were doing pulsing wall-sits against the mirror. I hadn’t done a wall-sit since middle school gym class, which didn’t exactly conjure up the happiest of memories. My thighs started quivering uncontrollably and the arches in my feet seized up.

“Someone’s got what we call our signature barre shakes!” the teacher said, almost too loudly. Be cool, lady. Damn. The last signature shake I had was at McDonald’s and I wasn’t really interested in any other kind. I also don’t think you can trademark muscle exhaustion, but whatever you say, she-devil.

At one point I think I sat down on the floor, but it could have been in the alternate reality I created in my mind. The teacher came over to ask if I was okay. I asked her if she could please retrieve my legs that I left in the corner. I may have also mumbled something about grilled cheese, but she just gave me a funny look and said “you’re doing great.”

Overall, I would give barre class three dumbbells out of 600 stars for the lack of froyo and too many signature shakes that weren’t chocolate. The fact that I didn’t immediately turn into Beyoncé is bullshit, frankly, and I won’t be returning. Unless anyone asks, in which case I go all the time and it’s totally changed my life.


Brenna Donovan is a Boston-based writer, editor, and educator. She holds an MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College, where she also teaches writing to first-year students. Her writing has most recently appeared in the Boston Globe and Boston Magazine. You can read more of her work on her website, brenna-donovan.com.

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