As founder of Sculpt Barre, Nikki Smith describes the dĂ©cor of her luxurious studio spaces as ‘boutique fitness.’
There’s not even the faintest trace of that pungent mix of sweat, rubber mats and barbells, of which normal gyms reek. With floor to ceiling windows that look out over the outskirts of the Campbell Industrial Park, Sculpt Barre in St. Albert is clean, comfortable and offers an assortment of posh elements for clients, like a variety of beauty products available for use in the bathroom.
Patrons are asked to wear ballet barre specific ‘grip’ socks in the studio to prevent slipping. As I sit, sliding on my brand new grippy socks and waiting for my first ballet barre class to start, I notice the socks of the women across from me. They say ‘good shaking’ along the bottom. While I couldn’t figure out what ‘good shaking’ could possibly mean before class started, I was quickly introduced to the concept by my instructor, Julia Price.
‘Good shaking,’ as it turns out, is just what happens if you do Sculpt Barre right.
“It’s a fusion of yoga, Pilates and ballet technique, but there’s no dancing,” explains Smith, after class. “The difference between a barre workout compared to other types of workouts is we really focus on muscle isolation. So as you noticed, all the movements in the class are very, very small. We move within tiny little inches, slowly burn the muscle out and then we follow everything up with a stretch. And that stretch is what gives the elongation – think of a dancer’s body, everything is long and lean.”
Many of the exercises might seem vaguely familiar – like triceps extensions or hip abductions. But at Sculpt Barre, it’s all about squeezing the muscles, then making small, nearly imperceptible one-inch movements while the muscle is still activated. You can feel the results almost instantly, often leading to that ‘good shaking.’
While my instructor would move about the classroom gently correcting our form – and it was easy to recognize the poise of a former dancer in Price’s posture – the connection between ballet and Sculpt Barre has its limits.
“What I tell everyone is, ‘I’ve never danced a day in my life and you don’t want to see me try,’” says Smith. “You don’t need any type of dance experience, it’s more so just the terminology and some of the movements that we use and that’s as ballet-ish as it gets. There’s no actual dancing.
“The dancers do love it, ” she adds, “because of those elements. It sort of brings them back to when they used to dance, when they were younger.”
Sculpt Barre currently has six locations in Canada and plans are already in the works to open more studios in 2017. While ballet barre is a growing fitness phenomenon, the Sculpt Barre method was developed by Smith herself and is specific to the Sculpt Barre Studios.
“I was living in the U.S. for a few years and barre-type workouts were really popular back than,” explains Smith. “And then when I moved back here, I think there were only three studios open in Canada.”
Having studied business management at MacEwan University, Smith saw an opportunity to bring her favourite workout home. So she set about crafting an original technique, using her previous experience in the format, along with her knowledge as a certified yoga instructor.
“When I first moved back here, we obviously didn’t have a studio built out,” continues Smith, “and when I hired my original five instructors, I needed a place to teach them and to show them what we were going to be doing,” said Smith. “At that time, I was living out in the country and I got my dad to build a bar in the basement. It was actually just a rickety old hand rail. It wasn’t even put up very well. But anyways, the house we lived in was out on the farm, so the girls started calling it ‘barn barre.’”
Once Smith was done teaching ‘barn barre,’ the first studio opened in Sherwood Park in 2013, with the opening of the St. Albert space quickly following in 2014.
It’s clear that everything about the experience is part of Smith’s design, from the elegant space, to the bright instruction, to the fitness foreshadowing socks. And as for the workout itself, it definitely had me trembling – in a good way – and left me sore in places many exercise routines fail to reach, like the hamstrings and lower back.
“The other greatest thing that I always tell the clients is it’s for all different fitness levels,” assures Smith. “You can go at your own level. So we can offer a lower modification, we can offer a higher modification if you want a challenge. So it truly, truly is for everyone.”