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Paulina Witkowski leads the barreworks mixed level class at barreworks studio in Toronto on June 5, 2012. (JENNIFER ROBERTS/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
Paulina Witkowski leads the barreworks mixed level class at barreworks studio in Toronto on June 5, 2012. (JENNIFER ROBERTS/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

Get a dancer's glow - and a workout - with Barreworks Add to ...

Everything about Barreworks Toronto – a new ballet-inspired fitness studio – is beautiful. From the high-ceilinged, wood-floored space to the pristine white-tiled change room to the enviably limber twenty-somethings plié-ing in its barre-based classes, it’s hands-down the most attractive gym I’ve ever had the pleasure of sweating in.

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“The design inspiration was old New York ballet school-slash-library,” says Andrea Mills, communications director for Barreworks. She knows what she’s talking about: Ms. Mills is a former House & Home editor with 13 years of ballet training, which also explains her to-die-for dancer’s body, as well as the fact that every magazine editor – or so it seems – has been tweeting about the studio since it opened its frosted glass doors on June 1. But is there substance behind all this style?

In a word, yes. The 60-minute Barreworks Mixed Level class I took – along with 15 other bunned, spandex-clad women and one very brave man – was a fast-paced, full-body workout featuring quick hits of cardio, lots of core and arm work and a serious amount of lunges and squats (masquerading as pliés).

After collecting our equipment – three balls (two small weighted ones that we use as hand weights plus a run-of-the-mill rubber option to squeeze between our knees during squats) a mat and a resistance band – our incredibly graceful instructor leads us through a warmup of arm circles, simple step touches and squats. Then we sidle up to the barre – used in about one-third of the moves, primarily for support – for more squats, leg lifts and standing push-ups set to a frenetic remix of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. (If you were expecting Tchaikovsky, you’re out of luck.)

The class is largely free of ballet-speak – a relief for those who don’t know their demi pliés from their attitude derrières – and you don’t need a dance background to get a decent workout. (Trust me on this, I’m a major klutz but still managed to keep up.) “All of our instructors are dancers, but we worked really hard to make sure the program wasn’t intimidating,” says Ms. Mills. “Of course there’s a bit of a learning curve but it’s not a dance workout. I think of it as more of a dancey bootcamp.”

That description is apt. While most of the moves are fitness basics, they’re bestowed with a sense of grace thanks to flowing arm movements, pointed toes and balance-a-book-on-your-head posture. (These are the most ladylike squats I’ve ever executed. They’re also some of the deepest, thanks to the support provided by the barre.)

Largely inspired by Physique 67 and The Bar Method – two popular U.S.-based barre studio chains – Barreworks, which also offers spin-barre and yoga-barre classes, is riding the ballet craze ignited by 2010’s Black Swan and is still twirling upwards. (Toronto’s Design Exchange is mounting two ballet-themed exhibits this summer; a behind-the-curtains exposé – Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and the Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection – hits bookshelves in September, and Bunheads, a ballet-themed sitcom, premieres on ABC Spark tonight.)

At Barreworks, it’s about indulging your childhood ballerina fantasies while shrinking your saddlebags. “Think about wearing your short shorts,” our instructor chirps while coaxing us to deepen our squats. Then it’s a series of step touches before moving on to the resistance bands, which we tie around the barre and use for bicep curls, rows and tricep kickbacks. Arms trembling, it’s time for another cardio break (this one in the form of some very un-ballerina-like burpees) before we hit the floor for an excruciating round of crunches, V-sits and plank work.

“Make it count,” she implores as I watch the seconds ever-so-slowly tick by on the studio’s vintage-look stainless steel-framed wall clock.

After a final round of stretching on the barre, we’re done. I’m far sweatier than I anticipated – so much for the “dancer’s glow” – and can already feel the aftereffects of the workout in my arms and legs. I’m also standing taller than I was an hour ago, something I continue to notice throughout the day. Sure, I won’t be appearing in the National Ballet anytime soon (or ever, for that matter), but for an hour it’s fun to pretend – and get a good workout in the process.

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