By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Like many folks who leave Western New York, Rachael Hughes and Giavana de Zitter got a great taste of the outside world, drank it in and then decided to return to what may be one of the most underrated and underappreciated places in America.
The nice thing about such returns is that few who re-nest in the region come back empty handed.
Hughes and de Zitter, both 25 and subject of Saturday’s “In the Field” feature in WNY Refresh, honed their dancing skills at Ohio State and on a pair of Royal Caribbean cruiseliners, respectively, before their return. Then they opened Barre Centric, the first barre (pronounced Baar) studio in Western New York.
What was it like working aboard the Vision and the Grandeur?
“It’s like another world, another planet,” de Zitter told me during our recent interview. “It was so much fun. Being a member of the crew you just have your own room, your own space. I was on the ship to perform and rehearse and I had free time, so during the day, I got off the ship and saw things. Sometimes you have days where you’re stuck on the ship. You read a lot of books and watch movies, and exercising to keep dancing.”
What was a typical show like?
“I did a tango show, I did a ‘70s show, I did a Broadway show, a lot of partnering work. There’s six guys, six girls, then there’s four singers: two guys, two girls. The dancers always lip synch to every single song. You do two shows back-to-back, so it’s two shows high intensity, hour and hour.”
De Zitter said Stockholm, Sweden was among the most beautiful places in the roughly 30 countries she visited.
“The whole Scandinavian area was really cool,” she said. “And Estonia. And I loved Israel. They have beautiful beaches and Jerusalem is amazing. I got to see the Dead Sea and float in the water there. And South Africa is one of my favorite places in the world.
She and her husband, Calvin, who met aboard one of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, thought about staying in South Africa, she said, “but my dreams are here and my family’s way bigger than his, and it’s an easier move here and he’d be making more money.”
“We can own a condo there, hopefully, some day,” she said.
Their relationship has connected two families half a world away.
“His family has been here twice,” she said, “and we just went to South Africa for Christmas. I had a wonderful partner to keep the business running.”
Hughes smiled. Then the two best friends continued to talk about Barre Centric. Here are some excerpts that didn’t make print:
Who came up with the name?
Same time: We both did.
Hughes: Gia’s favorite color is red and mine’s turquoise, so we usually wear those colors.
de Zitter: I like to think about the red as strengthening and empowering and the blue as stretching and cooling down.
Centric is like center. Everything in the class is working from your core. And we like to think of this as the center of your health, too.
Would somebody who takes Zumba or a cardio class recognize the movements?
Hughes: It’s kind of it’s own thing, but definitely has roots in ballet, pilates and yoga.
Most people stay on the perimeter, at the barre?
de Zitter: Most people come to the center of the room for warm-ups, but for the majority of the class, we’re at the barre. A lot of the things are small movements. By the end of the exercise – maybe 2 minutes, 3 minutes in the same position – you’re legs will maybe be feeling a little shaky. You’ll come out of it and stretch it out, so a lot of this is strengthening and lengthening. You could be facing the side, or away from the barre. You could be seated on the floor. We use the weights in the center of the floor.
Would somebody who grew up taking dance classes – tap or ballet – recognize a lot of what you’re doing?
de Zitter: When we say, ‘We’re going to start in first position,’ or ‘We’re going to start in parallel,’ a lot of the principles of dance are there.
Hughes: But we always stress you don’t need dance experience to come into the class. We have all ages, all fitness levels (Regulars include those from ages 17 into their 70s). We don’t recommend it for little girls; it requires some focus.
Can you talk about how barre developed as an exercise program and if there’s a certification program that you need?
Hughes: Even though everyone calls it a new craze, it was started way back in the ‘70s by a dancer who was going through an injury – Lotte Berk – and couldn’t dance any more. She came over from Germany. A lot of the core exercises were developed in rehab, so they’re very rehabilitative on the body. That’s why the whole class is low-impact. It’s not jumping, it’s not anything intense on your joints. When she brought it over, she made it popular in New York City and other major metropolitan areas. The past few years, it’s gone up and up. That’s why we wanted to bring it here.
Did they have something like this at Ohio State?
de Zitter: We took our first class together there.
Hughes: A girl on the cheerleading team opened up a barre studio after graduation. I always thought Columbus and Buffalo were very similar cities. When I saw they had a studio, that was kind of the clicking point for me.
de Zitter: There’s lots of franchises now. When it came to certifications, a lot of times they were from pilates instructors who were dance majors or cheerleaders. So they came up with their own methods starting with the Lotte Berk method. We figured, ‘Why can’t we do this on our own?’ So Rachel and I came up with our own technique. We took my dance major, my pilates (Body 1 Studio) certification; she’s certified in group fitness (AFAA) and was a dance minor. We took our knowledge and we went out and took barre classes in other parts of the country. She took some in California and New York City; I went to Chicago for one.
Do you work with any of the other local gyms?
de Zitter: Stretch Pilates. We just did an event with them. My husband works at Alessi Fitness and he sends his women from there, here.
Hughes: We’re partnering in a TRX Studio in Orchard Park to hold barre classes there, because we’ve had a lot of requests from the Southtowns. One of our instructors teaches a class at Fisher-Price on Thursdays and last summer we held some free classes down at Canalside. We used the railings as barres. So you really never know when a barre class can pop up; they have railings everywhere. You only need a steady support and you can do a whole class.
What kind of music do you use?
Hughes: It’s always kind of upbeat, more Poppy. We keep a consistent 128 BPM (beats per minute) in all of classes. Other than that, we’re always downloading new music, new DJs, looking for new remixes of songs. If there’s a holiday, we’ll make it themed. We’ll call it ‘Throwback Thursday’ and play songs from the ‘80s.
There are 14 fitness studios up and down this stretch of Transit. Do you ever worry about that much competition?
Hughes: Most big box gym memberships kind of compliment ours. A lot of our members belong to a gym. In a lot of the big cities, and you’re seeing this more and more, a lot of people are moving from big box gyms to boutique studios, whether it’s spinning, CrossFit, pilates, yoga. I think Buffalo’s just starting to experience that.
What do you charge for classes?
de Zitter: You can choose. You can have unlimited classes, per class, or you can have a five-class pack. It caters to your schedule.
Hughes: Our classes range from $13 to $18, depending on how many you purchase. Our new client special is $100 unlimited classes for a month. We’re always doing promos and student special rates.
We find people like the smaller group classes and boutique experience. It’s more than just a class, it’s more of a community. It’s really comfortable.