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Originally published Friday, September 7, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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Belly up to the barre and be fightin' fit

The main difference between studios seems to be equipment, says Fit for Life columnist Nicole Tsong.

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photo by Ellen M. Banner

WHEN I mentioned to friends I was trying different barre studios, they all raved about theirs. The common thread was classes kicked their butts.

The idea is to develop the lean look and muscle tone of a ballet dancer by exercising on the floor at the barre to stress core strength and balance.

I persevered through several rounds, taking deep breaths to survive while witnessing a lot of legs shaking violently from the small pulses that define the style.

I wasn't motivated solely by the idea of rock-hard abs, but for some, that — and minimal sweat — is enough. With thumping music and trendy workout clothes, it is the epitome of girlie workouts; in four classes, I saw three men.

The main difference between studios seems to be equipment — stretchy bands (which I loathe), tubing, squishy balls, hand weights — and whether to wear grippy socks. I like bare feet. Regardless, my thighs, glutes and hips were always grateful when class was over.

PURE BARRE

www.purebarre.comDrop-in class: $23

Environment: Sleek and cute. In Seattle studio, belongings are stashed at the back of the practice room. Wear socks in carpeted studio.

Students packed into this place owned by Sami Sweeney, known for killer classes. Sami was welcoming, but her delivery was rapid-fire, which seems to be common in barre. Experienced students knew where she was going, but I couldn't always follow. The double fitness tubing, unique to Pure Barre, combined with the dreaded stretchy bands for core work, took the intensity to another level.

THE BAR METHOD

Seattle-eastside.barmethod.com

Drop-in class: $24

Environment: Ritziest of the studios; entry has white couches and chandeliers, spacious locker rooms plus ladderlike apparatuses for hanging and decompressing your spine. Socks required in carpeted studios.

I noticed the shaky legs first. Even the strongest legs appeared to be shaking uncontrollably during plié work at the barre. Teacher Quyen Hamilton's delivery was quick and demanding in a good way, pushing students to hold while calling out people by name to encourage and correct form. The constant reminders to tuck my tail didn't always feel natural, but my core and hips appreciated the intensity.

BARRE3

www.barre3.comDrop-in class: $20

Environment: Painted a vivid orange, Capitol Hill studio is spacious and has child care for some classes. Also has ladders for spine decompression. Socks optional, floors cork.

Teacher Jessie Purcell had a natural, easygoing style that was less intense than some others'. She still didn't go easy on us. We used the barre more than the floor, doing pushups and lunges with heels lifted, which set off a round of the familiar shaky legs. I welcomed the more mellow atmosphere and less intense music, but my thighs still felt the workout afterward.

FLYBARRE

seattle.flywheelsports.com/memberships/barre

Drop-in class: $25

Environment: The most high-tech, with assigned spots you choose ahead of time online. White, high-ceilinged studio feels more spin-oriented, but mirrored barre room was clean and organized. Socks optional.

The newest comer to the craze here, FlyBarre is under the umbrella of New York spin company FlyWheel. FlyBarre does arm work and the typical plié pulsing with a squishy ball between thighs and squats at the bar, but also creates fun dance-like routines. My instructor, Adrienne Nothnagel, was cheerful and easy to follow. It turns out core work with stretchy bands is quite effective.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Ellen M. Banner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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