Our intrepid correspondent (and Les Mills Trainer in her own right) heads for Chicago with fellow members of the US TAP Team for an intense introduction to the world of ballet-inspired exercise.

Some of us were admittedly a little intimidated. We’d traded our Reeboks for ballet shoes and we were in Chicago for the official LES MILLS BARRE boot camp. Since many of us had no real background in dance, we had good reason to wonder just how this would go.

In the end, we didn’t just survive, we thrived. Alan Rogers, a national Les Mills Presenter for CXWORX™ and BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW, speaks for many when he describes the biggest adjustment being a mental one.

“There was a mental shift in understanding what LES MILLS BARRE is,” Rogers says, “in that it is a ‘ballet-inspired class’, and you’re not expected to be a professional ballet dancer. Day two was a definite shift from day one: more comfort, I knew my peers a little bit better, and I put less pressure on myself. It was really a moment to be fearless and free, and I tried to experience the program for what it is.”

To recap: LES MILLS BARRE is a ballet-inspired workout that provides participants with cardio, strength, and the joy of dance. No special equipment is needed – not even a ballet barre, which makes it extremely accessible. The program features “center barre” work, including traditional ballet moves such as pliés, tendus, and pirouettes. The strength portion uses weighted (SMARTECH) plates and resistance bands. The standard program is 30 minutes long, but bonus tracks provide partner clubs the opportunity to offer it as a 45-minute class.

Josh Keenum and Cambria Camillo Smith, the U.S. LES MILLS BARRE Program Specialists, were in London in January for the global LES MILLS BARRE boot camp with other Les Mills Trainers from around the world. It was inspirational, challenging, and eye opening, they say. “The experience was like drinking out of a fire hose in the best way possible,” says Camillo Smith. “I learned, and learned, and learned some more! Plus, it was amazing to experience our “one tribe” values on a truly global level.”

Keenum adds that he had some revelations in Europe. “While in London, my biggest ‘aha moment’ was that anyone really can teach this [program]. Yes, it may take more time for some, as hip mobility might need more work, but it's possible for anyone.”

In fact, it was his own hip mobility that provided another of those aha moments. Already an accomplished dancer, Keenum featured in both BODYJAM 55 and SH’BAM™ 18, but says he had lost some range of motion from a lack of ballet dancing. “Since returning from London, I've increased my hip mobility. In turn, hip-dominant moves have become more fluid thanks to foam rolling and hip-specific stretches.”

Just two weeks after being in London, Keenum and Camillo Smith were sharing their global experience with us in Chicago. “Our goal was for our team to leave the boot camp full of LES MILLS BARRE knowledge, overflowing with LES MILLS BARRE passion, and ready to bring the benefits and delight of LES MILLS BARRE to Instructors and participants in the USA!” says Camillo Smith.

Les Mills Trainer and Presenter Nicole Hsu is a longtime dancer who already teaches a different barre-style class. She describes LES MILLS BARRE as a “whole different animal” and likes that it is clearly designed for both men and women. She says doing the entire class without actually holding onto a barre is a unique twist that requires participants to control and challenge their muscles while maintaining balance.

Despite being an accomplished and confident dancer (BODYJAM 57 Masterclass video), this more traditional style of ballet is new for Hsu. “Ballet makes me feel beautiful,” says Hsu. Squeezing the glutes and externally rotating through the hips throughout class, she explains, provides a different burn and experience than other classes she’s taken or taught. “You feel like you’re flying when walking after class!”

Rogers agrees with Hsu, and noticed a difference just one day after returning home from boot camp. “I did BODYATTACK™ Monday afternoon,” he recalls. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my Achilles is going to be tight. My calves are already tight.’ I did the warm-up, I started to do some of the running tracks, and I felt like a springboard! I literally felt as though, if I were doing a tuck jump, I could touch the ceiling, hit my head, come down, but land softly on my feet in a relevé, I felt like the runner I used to be. I could run and jump a little more gracefully and energetically, but I felt safer as well.”

I had similar experiences. Constantly keeping a “ballet tuck” in class made me much more aware of my posture inside and outside of class. I was surprised to discover I often relax my abs (despite teaching CXWORX since Release 3!), which causes my pelvis to tilt forward. That tilt was contributing to a sore lower back. Now I’m aware of it, I find myself self-correcting often, especially when doing standing tasks like washing dishes!

Camillo Smith has also seen physical changes since starting LES MILLS BARRE. “Within a month I’d already noticed improvements in my cardio performance, stability, and core power. I also had others comment on the visible composition changes and new leanness of my body.”

Keenum has advice for future instructors: “Teachers going into LES MILLS BARRE training need to focus on a few items – core, hip mobility, and posture. CXWORX two to three times per week would be ideal for strengthening the core and posture, while BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW would be ideal for hips. If teachers can't make one of these in person, check out LES MILLS On Demand for at home use.”

My own feelings about LES MILLS BARRE were really summed up by Josh Keenum when he said, “This program provides nostalgia for former dancers and a sense of accomplishment for those who always wanted to dance, but never did. It brings joy to movement and challenge to those who seek it.” Believe it.

See you at an Initial Training, soon!