One of my big indulgences during maternity leave has been to sign up to as many mum and baby classes as possible. Our weeks are packed with everything from baby massage and buggy workouts to Sing and Sign and Tots Tunes. While I can assess these classes in terms of their value for money, age appropriateness, venue facilities and my own enjoyment, the real critic, and chief arbiter of our activities, is my daughter, Florence. It doesn’t matter how much I want to go to mum and baby yoga (and believe me I’ve tried a number of classes), Florence ensures that any element of relaxation is expunged, whether it is through screaming, laughing, pulling at my hair, wanting to be held, wanting to be put down, wanting to be fed, vomiting, pooing, testing her shouting voice, the list goes on. I always seem to be the only mum covered in sick with a baby who has zero interest in laying quietly while I stretch. Pop her in the swimming pool, or take her to a Bach to Baby classical music concert by contrast, and she is happy for an age. That is why, when I signed up to review the Barre and Baby ballet class in Canonbury, Islington, I knew that the main test would not be whether I could still do a plié, but whether Florence would scream the studio down.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from the session – whether it would be strictly ballet or more of an exercise class – or of the level of ability required. While I did ballet as a child, I haven’t danced properly for years, and have never attempted to do so with a baby attached to me! I was reassured by the information on the website, which said that no prior experience was necessary and that while ballet shoes were welcome, bare feet were fine too. Leotards were also out; we just needed to wear something comfortable and easy to move in and, as babies are worn during the class, a tummy-to-tummy or back-hold sling (forward facing slings are advised against and if you don’t have your own sling just email in advance and you can borrow one).
We began with the teacher (and founder of Barre and Baby), Elisa, introducing the class theme and then we each introduced ourselves and our babies, and explored what that theme meant to us in the context of the class. This is something that Elisa does each week and past themes have included flexibility and balance. For our class, the theme was the layers of identities we take on as mothers, wives, sisters, colleagues etc. This holistic approach – tapping into our emotional as well as our physical sides – surprised me, but it was something that I found incredibly positive and it really set a nice tone for the class.
We then dedicated some time to the babies, signing nursery rhymes and manipulating their limbs, before putting them in the slings for our warm-up at the barre. Elisa showed us a series of steps, which we would then repeat. Each exercise involved small but controlled toning movements and seemed to engage every muscle, from those in the legs and glutes, to the shoulders, back and pelvic floor. That said, all of the steps were to classical music, so you definitely felt more like you were dancing, not simply ‘working out’. The music and the gentle movements also seemed to lull all of the babies to sleep, Florence included!
Barre work was followed by a dance routine in the centre of the room. Again Elisa walked through this and then we had two attempts at it as a group. There was no pressure to get every step right and everyone was so focused on themselves that I’m sure they didn’t notice or care as I got my feet into a muddle at times!
The class is designed to help with posture, strengthening and protecting the spine in response to the weight-baring involved in pregnancy and nursing, as well as to improve general physical health, strength and flexibility. But, as I alluded to above, this isn’t just a class about the body: it is also designed to reduce stress, to help you relax, stretch out, enjoy some time for yourself while with your baby and to have fun! Despite being an hour and a quarter, the time went so quickly and I couldn’t believe when it was time for us to leave. Elisa is so passionate about ballet and so keen for everyone to relax and embrace the opportunity to move and stretch, it seemed impossible not to really enjoy the session and I came out feeling like I’d spent the morning at a spa I was so relaxed and happy. And Florence, who slept through most of the class, also came away in good spirits. It was such a success that I’ve signed up for five more lessons; fingers crossed Florence is still as much of a fan next week!
Who is it for? Barre and Baby is for both mums and mums-to-be. The class is suitable for women from 12 weeks of pregnancy or six weeks to two years postpartum. Although the class doesn’t require any prior experience of ballet, it was useful to have some knowledge of the various arm and leg positions – first, second, third etc. – and to have some experience of picking up choreography quite quickly. That said, the class is repeated week on week, so even if you struggle in the first session, by the third you will doubtless feel a lot more comfortable with the steps.
How much: Taster sessions cost £10; individual classes cost £20; a pack of 5 classes costs £85 and a pack of 10 classes costs £150.
Where: Various places in London