Yer Barred! Or – finding solace at the ballet barre

One of the things I have to keep reminding myself is that, in moving, I am not trying to recreate the life I had in Brighton, just a little bit cheaper and farther away from the sea. I loved living in Brighton – my flat had a sea view, there were coffee shops and convenience stores at the end of my street, good friends lived just moments away. It was by any measure a nice life, and I frittered away my first two weeks of house hunting looking for somewhere I could have the same, with less outlay on rent.

Finding the flat I am moving into actually took me realising that I was looking under false criteria: I moved because I felt I had fallen into a rut – enjoyable, comfortable, with really nice weather, but a rut nonetheless. How would I get the change I wanted, unless I actually embraced it?

Part of that change, I had decided, would be about my body. Over the last couple of years, for a whole bunch of reasons – anxiety, middling health, a job that sees me sometimes spending 10 hours straight at a laptop – my weight has ballooned. It’s got to the stage where I often pass myself in the mirror and think, who is that? (I recently read Shonda Rhimes book, The Year of Yes, and the chapter she wrote on her weight had me nodding in recognition and cringing in embarrassment – I wasn’t even going to write this in case it spurred everyone to either go, ‘oh, wow, yeah, now that you mention it, I just noticed, you porker’ or conversely, all those ‘but you always look great!’ which are trying to be sweet but actually, like all those ‘you’re so lovely how can you be single/you’ll find someone’ comments make you feel WAY worse.)

So I booked something I have been keen to try, but scared of – a barre class. Because I knew I was out of shape, and because some things are WAY cheaper in Newcastle, I even booked some one-to-one sessions, figuring if I was going to embarrass myself wearing a belly-clinging tee and leggings in a room full of bendies, I could at least get some of the moves down first. And also, I admit, I was banking on Geordie friendliness. I would never have booked this in Brighton – I would have been too worried that my tutor was looking down on me, secretly or not so secretly, and my self-consciousness would have made me come up with excuses for classes I had already paid for, so I’d end up out of pocket and still in bad shape.

Luckily, my instincts proved right. I booked a 30-minute session at the Barre Studio, on the Quayside – the location means you get an added work out just walking up and down to get there (the first time, I foolishly took the accurately titled Long Stairs and was nearly dead when I arrived – after that, I took the steep but more leisurely stroll down Dean Street. I figured 30 minutes was safe – how bad could it be for 30 minutes? (Oh, reader, you would be surprised…)

My tutor is a tiny, smiley blonde woman – when she bounded out to greet me, my heart sank a little – but, 3 classes in, I have been thrilled by her teaching. She’s encouraging when she needs to be (I have no idea if I have great ab control, but I always feel better for her telling me I do), but insistent I actually do the work, when my instinct is to give up the minute it gets tough. It’s not an easy class to do either physically or mentally: the whole point of Barre is it’s hard, and I spend all of the class either facing my tutor as she rigorously watches me for form, which is quite squirm-inducing, or staring at myself in the unforgiving mirror, which makes me painfully aware of how I have let myself slide.

Pleasingly, she also understands it’s not really about the weight: in my induction, I told her I wanted to increase my strength and my posture (I am terrified of developing a laptop hunch), but also that I felt alienated from my body in a way I didn’t like. I used to be a comfortably physical person (albeit famously, catastrophically clumsy), and now I feel like I am wandering around in a stranger’s clothes. And, she listened, which is a rare skill: when I later fluffed an easy move, she assured me – ‘You just haven’t learned to trust that body yet’, which made me feel immensely better.

I’m allowing myself a couple more personal sessions before I face the class, and eventually plan to work up to the hour-long classes, and when I am settled in my new place I plan to find a gym. But even just going, I feel I have already climbed a mountain. And not just because Dean Street is so very, very steep.


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