Bellying Up To The Barre


Once upon a time, we put on shorts and a ratty T-shirt and went to the gym. Footwear was tennis shoes, whether or not they actually stepped on a court.

Now it is fashion-forward fitness with name brands like Exhale, Soul Cycle, Tracy Anderson, and Physique 57. No wonder my mother is confused when I say I am going to barre class and she thinks I am trying to be a mixologist. Women’s workout in the Hamptons has become a full-blown extravaganza replete with expensive costumes and classes and fierce competition.

I grew up with Jane Fonda and her video empire and still have a soft spot for leg warmers. “Aerobics” we called it, and I loved the fitness studios where they put the stationary bikes right behind where the women’s classes were held. I remember men huffing and puffing looking at the infamous thong leotards bouncing in front of them and peddling furiously to the object of their desire but getting nowhere.

But like hem lines, women’s exercise crazes have had to keep changing to keep us on our toes. There was step class, then kickboxing, then boot camp, then spin classes, then Zumba. I drew the line at Zumba. Even yoga wasn’t just yoga — there was Bikram and Hatha and Yin and goat, kitten, and puppy yoga. (Seriously, it’s a thing at the Southampton Animal Shelter).

I am usually not one who is into competing with other women, but why is it in yoga class that the girl version of Gumby is always next to me? I wonder if she just has fewer vertebrae in her spine or ran away from Cirque de Soleil. Or in barre class, where a gazelle lopes up to the ballet bar in a python print sports bra and warms up with a graceful leg held up to her ear. I squat and grunt and realize I have a coffee stain down my shirt.

Some women have the luck of just getting a healthy glow after a workout and delicately pat a few drops of sweat off their brow with their blow-out perfectly intact. I am not that girl. I have sensitive skin so tend to go past flushed to red and may look like I need medical attention. This and my lack of a $200 outfit make me a poor candidate to be invited out after class for a skinny vanilla latte.

On summer weekends, you need to be Xena, Warrior Princess, to do battle getting into class. The women gather early by the door to the studio, waiting for the previous class to get out. Once the music stops and the thanks are heard from the instructor, the women make a rush for it, grabbing a towel and bottle of water as they swim upstream through the glowing women trying to get out. Once through the throng, they race to get a spot at the barre, which can get ugly. I mean, come on, this is exercise class — not the last plane to Lisbon. One woman even cracked her engagement ring band she was gripping the ballet barre so hard.

There’s a desperate musical chairs quality to the whole affair. Even in the parking lot. Women race to get the closest spot . . . because they don’t want to walk that far . . . to exercise class? Then, after class, there are pheromone-high throngs of confused women all beeping their key fobs to see which black Range Rover is actually theirs.

The one thing I will say is that these women do look fantastic, into their 50s, 60s, and 70s. They may be fierce about the exercise ritual, but the results speak volumes. So even if I show up in my ratty T-shirt — *fist bump* — respect.

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