By Alex Little
Ten years ago I was looking for a workout, outside of dance class, that was low impact but would get me into shape. I heard about a ‘barre class’ down the street. It sounded perfect. I was looking for something that would get my heart rate up and incorporate conditioning without impact on my joints. Having had ankle and back injuries from my dance career, I couldn’t run or do aerobics for long periods anymore. Enter ‘Cardio Barre’. Not only did my wishlist get checked but it would also incorporate dance technique I already understood. And the best part – it was fun.
I sat down with the founder and owner, ex professional dancer Richard Giorla, after my class to ask him how he began Cardio Barre, where it fits into the dance world, and where he sees its future.
What’s your background?
I started dancing late. I was born and grew up in Philly. I moved to New York City in 1982. I saw Flashdance and when I saw the breakdance scene I decided to move to New York thinking ‘whatever that dancing is I gotta do it’. Seven days later, at 19 years old with four bucks in my pocket, I moved, met the guys on the street and traded my gymnastics skills for their breakdance moves. But I knew that if I wanted to dance mainstream and make any money I would have to be technically trained. So I went to Steps on Broadway and got on scholarship for about five years from 1984-1989. I felt way behind, truly starting to technically train at 20 years old, but with five classes a day of ballet, jazz, tap- everything, I became well rounded. That became my strength – I was versatile.
How did you eventually get to L.A.?
I decided to move to L.A. in 1989, for the commercial dance scene that LA had to offer. I had most of my professional career here in Los Angeles with movies, commercials and premieres and worked with the big names like Michael Jackson. I had an amazing career that spanned twelve years! And then I experienced a huge injury that ended my career at 37. I wasn’t prepared for it. For two years I was out of work, out of money and I was devastated. My self-esteem started to plummet because I couldn’t dance anymore.
Please tell me that Cardio Barre is going to emerge out of this?…
Well, you know that saying ‘flowers grow from a dark moment?’ Well yes, they did. My friend Dana brought me here to this location (of Cardio Barre) because they needed another teacher for the class they had which was a barre based fitness class. I was desperate for money, but then incidentally the owner had to file for bankruptcy six months later. At the thought of us all being out of a job, a light bulb went off in my head. I saw a future for this in my life because I loved the concept – fitness at a ballet barre. I had to buy her business! I believed in myself and my vision enough to beg and borrow the money to buy our Studio City location in 2001. With influence from the class (which originated from Lottie Berk’s bar methods) I constructed my own ballet barre fitness class and trademarked it ‘Cardio Barre’.
What is Cardio Barre?
Cardio Barre is a no impact, high energy fitness class with a ballet barre. A fun hour workout geared to achieve a dancers’ body – a long lean body. I believe my class is on the cutting edge in working out because you can still sweat and get your cardio without your feet ever leaving the floor! No punching, kicking and jumping. I have incorporated my ballet knowledge. We do pliés, tendus, battements, relevés and balances at the barre. There is no other fitness barre class that incorporates ballet technique this way. The barre helps isolate each movement and stabilize one’s core. I have also incorporated my weight training knowledge for sculpting. We use a counting system different from any other that keeps us balanced and paced and we have signature names for our moves that span from barre work to weight work and floor work. It is a unique combination class with core strength, resistance training, flexibility, and cardio all being worked for an entire hour. No one has ever created a ‘no impact, high energy’ workout class like I have. The class offers constant movement that is both safe and effective. This is going to change the way we work out worldwide!
Do you have to be a dancer to try your class?
No. That’s the beauty of it! It is so dancer-friendly, yet for the mainstream you don’t have to be a dancer to do it. We have a tagline that says ‘get the dancer’s body with no dance experience’. We use techniques that dancers use through mainstream fitness. Everyone can feel like a ballerina, or dancer, when they leave here. We don’t use the word ballet in our advertising because it is not a ballet class. But for those with a ballet background it will feel so helpful.
How does your class help the dancer? I have seen many other professional dancers in here, including dancers from So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, the cast of Glee, as well as famous hosts, actors and singers.
Cardio Barre improves the dancer’s stamina and core strength. In dance class you do a combination in groups and then you stop and wait for your turn. Cardio Barre is high reps with no breaks. It will make the dancer extremely strong and increase his or her flexibility.
Are your instructors also dancers like you?
Yes, each instructor has to have had at least four years of classical ballet training so that they can demonstrate correct technique and correct each client. The magic of our program is in our instructors. They go through a three month training course to not only learn the program, but they become personal motivators as well. They are hands on and encouraging to the students.
You mentioned something about ‘worldwide’. Are you franchising?
Yes! Three years ago, due to our business growth, interest and popularity in Hollywood we began to franchise. We now have six locations in southern California, and there will be ten by the summer. We have franchises opening across the country later this year, so we will be national by the end of 2011. We already have interest from overseas. Cardio Barre is a great business opportunity for dancers after their ‘dance career’ has ended. It is an amazing lifetime career after dance because it is dance and fitness incorporated together and most dancers are interested in remaining fit. Just think – you could be the owner and leader of a health center in the community doing something you already love and change lives while continuing your passion for dance and fitness.