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What the Heck is Barre? Two Such Fitness Studios Open in 19th Ward

By Howard Ludwig | November 13, 2015 5:41am
 Carrie O'Donnell (front) and Molly McAlinden opened Beverly Barre at 9909 S. Walden Parkway on Oct. 23. The childhood friends said the ballet-inspired workout offers a challenge they hadn't experienced at other group fitness classes.
Carrie O'Donnell (front) and Molly McAlinden opened Beverly Barre at 9909 S. Walden Parkway on Oct. 23. The childhood friends said the ballet-inspired workout offers a challenge they hadn't experienced at other group fitness classes.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — Women in Beverly and Mount Greenwood are hitting up an altogether different type of bar these days. 

Two barre fitness studios have debuted in recent months, offering ballet-inspired workouts that rely on a barre — the official name of the handrail used by professional dancers.

Pronounced like the common name for a tavern, barre classes are an intense blend of ballet-type poses combined with exercises commonly found in Pilates, yoga and strength training. The barre itself is used for stretching and stability.

"It's a lot of core work," said Carrie O'Donnell, who opened Beverly Barre on Oct. 23 with her childhood friend Molly McAlinden.

"You are building up those long, lean muscles instead of bulking up," said O'Donnell, who graduated from St. Barnabas Elementary School and Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School with her longtime friend and new business partner.

 Kelly Lynch opened Barre It All at 11114 S. Kedzie Ave. in Mount Greenwood on Aug. 1. The Morgan Park native fell in love with barre classes while living in San Diego.
Kelly Lynch opened Barre It All at 11114 S. Kedzie Ave. in Mount Greenwood on Aug. 1. The Morgan Park native fell in love with barre classes while living in San Diego.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

The pair actually began teaching barre classes in late February at Beverly's Dance Gallery Chicago before opening their own studio in the former Tranquility Hair Salon at 9909 S. Walden Parkway.

Kelly Lynch of Barre It All in Mount Greenwood was also raised in the area, attending St. Cajetan Elementary School and Mother McAuley. Her barre studio debuted at 11114 S. Kedzie Ave. on Aug. 1.

"I was bummed that there weren't any boutique workout places in the neighborhood," said Lynch, who also offers some Pilates and tabata classes in her fitness studio.

Lynch began by teaching barre classes at Kennedy Park at 11320 S. Western Ave. in Morgan Park before moving to Natural Instincts Physical Therapy and Wellness at 11113 S. Western Ave. also in Morgan Park.

She then began offering a barre class at A Relaxed You at 11121 S. Kedzie Ave. in Mount Greenwood when she noticed her current storefront sitting vacant across the street.

"The feedback that we've received is that no class is the same. It's always challenging, and it goes by really, really quick," said Lynch, who lives in suburban Lockport.

Lynch fell in love with barre workouts some eight years ago while living in San Diego. Likewise, O'Donnell attended her first barre class in Boston, and McAlinden went to her initial class downtown.

All of the women saw void on the South Side and sought to fill it. So far, they seem to have found an audience. About a dozen participants attend most classes. The sessions are about an hour long at both studios.

A single class at Beverly Barre costs $15 with discounts available when buying multi-class packages. A single class at Barre It All costs $13 with similar multi-class discounts also available.

Both studios offer about two classes per day. Workouts are usually held in the mornings and evenings as all of the studio owners also work full-time jobs. O'Donnell is in product development for an investment management firm. McAlinden is a hair stylist, and Lynch works as a special education administrator.

"I've done tons of different group fitness classes, and I've never felt there is that structure," O'Donnell said of the barre courses.

All of he women also stumbled upon barre classes while also regularly running for exercise. They felt barre courses filled in the gaps that running left out and also helped them prevent injuries related to running.

The barre workouts are intense, but the shop owners agreed that workouts are easily catered to the experience level of attendees. Thus, those participating in the classes can push their limits or scale back depending on their personal goals and comfort level.

"I think the biggest selling point when talking to people is that these moves are really meant for a woman's body," Lynch said.

She said many attendees are women looking to stay fit during their pregnancy or new moms working to shed baby weight. All the women believe the exercises in barre tend to target common problem areas such as the stomach, legs and arms.

But men can also benefit from the exercises. In fact, celebrity chef Graham Elliot plans to work out at the Barre It All at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 19. Proceeds from the event will benefit Smile Train.

The charity near to Elliot's heart trains doctors in developing countries to perform surgery to repair cleft lips and palates. The judge from Fox's "MasterChef" and "MasterChef Junior" has a son, Conrad, who was born with a bilateral cleft.

All the barre owners said they believe that their classes will continue to attract new followers as well as retain regular barre enthusiasts. And as classes fill up, more will be added.

"This is the only group fitness class that ever stuck," O'Donnell said.

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