Strength at the barre

Kristi Stuart’s journey to Barre Belle is a story about hard work, perseverance and overcoming adversity. 

“You’ll thank me later!” promised Kristi Stuart as she ferociously led us into another set of jumping jacks after already fatiguing our arms with free weight exercises. Welcome to Barre X, a high intensity cardio barre class aimed to help you torch calories and develop lean, toned dancer muscles.

Barre X is just one of a few types of classes at Bare Belle, a boutique barre studio in Calgary that kicks your ass in a love/hate relationship. That’s because as merciless as Stuart is in class, she does it out of love. Yes, Stuart has a vested interest in making sure your ass is whipped into shape.

“I want people to not only enjoy coming, but I want them to see results,” she says. “That’s the whole point right? People won’t come if they don’t see results, so it’s imperative they achieve them.”

As she relentlessly leads her students through intense exercise after exercise, it’s easy to recognize Stuart as a driven, not to mention incredibly fit, young woman. It seems logical then that she, along with friend Jill Belland own and operate Barre Belle.

However, Stuart's journey to Barre Belle might be a little different from you may have imagined.

An unexpected gift

After teaching class, Stuart received a package that had been dropped off at the studio by her friend Danielle. The package consisted of a small necklace along with a card. In the card, Danielle wrote how the necklace had belonged to her daughter Diamond, who used to rub it for good luck. Danielle wrote how Diamond would have been very proud of what Stuart has achieved and that she would have wanted Stuart to have her special necklace.

I looked at Stuart, who was now in tears. “Diamond passed away in December of 2014 at the age of nine from cancer,” she explains. “She was such a champion. She beat cancer three times – it kept coming back and she kept fighting. But through it all, she always had the biggest smile on her face. You never looked at her and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl has cancer’. Instead, you noticed how happy she always was. She was like a light.”

Incidentally, Diamond’s fight for life is what eventually led to Stuart and Belland pursuing their dream of opening a barre studio. “Jill and I had been talking about opening a studio for three or four years. But the timing was never right,” notes Stuart.

“Then I remember attending Diamond’s funeral, and hearing Diamond’s father, Lyle, say in his eulogy, ‘Be happy. Life is short’. Diamond was nine and she wasn’t going to have the chance to live her life. Here I was at 33 – I had my whole life ahead of me. Yet I wasn’t going for my dream because I was scared.”

With a newfound perspective and determination, Stuart put her fears aside. She and Belland set out on a mission to finally open their barre studio. However, this wasn’t the first time Stuart had to overcome an internal struggle to move her life forward. No, her experience dates back to a life-changing event during her last year of high school.

Dreams of dance

Stuart had been a dancer from the age of three. She trained in jazz, tap and ballet and spent her childhood either at the dance studio or at competitions. When high school started to come to an end, Stuart was planning on auditioning for cruise ships, hoping to defer university for a year to dance professionally.

That dream ended when she was rear-ended in a traumatizing car accident. “I was absolutely devastated. All the muscles in my shoulder area were torn, I couldn’t dance anymore,” recalls Stuart. “And when you’ve been a dancer your whole life, it becomes your identity.”

Starting a new life

After many months of physio treatments, Stuart moved on with her life by attending Simon Fraser University in B.C. There, she studied molecular biology. Upon graduation, she moved home to Calgary and embarked on a career in pharmaceutical sales before getting married and eventually transitioning into becoming a stay-at-home mom to help raise her two kids.

Although she never danced again, Stuart had started taking up running. And when she discovered barre, she knew she had discovered a new passion. “Barre is an opportunity for not only me, but every ex-dancer to fill the void after they retire from dance. But at the same time, you don’t need to be a ballet dancer to do it. It’s for everyone who wants to transform and maintain a fit body. There’s no dance experience necessary - but obviously if you have experience, it will help you.”

Making Barre Belle a reality

Determined to share the fitness benefits of barre to YYC, Stuart and Belland put together a business plan, worked with their banker at Alberta Treasury Branch (where they received a Canada Small Business Loan) and talked to some of the brightest minds they could find for advice.

“We went out and we talked to some of the best entrepreneurs we could find in different industries,” notes Stuart. “We met with people like Lourdes Juan (owner of Soma Spa), Jeff Jamieson (co-owner of Proof) and lots of other trailblazers who had the experience and knowledge in how to succeed in running a business.”

From there, Stuart and Belland found the perfect location – an ex-retail space on fourth street in the heart of Calgary’s Mission area. After months of rallying for a developmental permit, the pair was ready to move into their new space and begin preparations to open shop. The one drawback – they didn’t receive their permit until December 11, 2015 and their goal was to open just two months later on February 14.

Enlisting the creative minds of designer Aly Velji and his team, as well as contractors from Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd., Stuart and Belland collaborated with a group of focused individuals who worked around the clock to help bring the Barre Belle dream to life.

A sweet Valentines Day arrival

Barre Belle successfully opened its doors on Valentines Day, February 14. The reception has been remarkable, with many 6 a.m. classes getting waitlisted due to the studio’s flourishing popularity.

What makes Barre Belle different from other barre studios? “We worked with renowned dance instructor Cyndi Scott, Artistic Director of the dance program at the Edge School for Athletes, to come up with our choreography,” states Stuart. “Our classes incorporate cardio to make them high intensity, and they also truly help our students in developing dancer-inspired physiques.”

“For example, we focus on pulsing up in our plié exercises, instead of just moving up and down. The reason for this is that it engages your hamstrings. Other studios are very focused on developing quads. Our studio is different.”

Barre Belle’s vision is encapsulated in its logo, designed by Calgary design agency, Wax. The logo features the ribbons of a pair of ballet pointe shoes forming an X shape underneath a barre. The pointe shoe ribbons pay tribute to ballet (the origin of barre) “but in an edgy way with a focus on fitness,” explains Stuart.

Barre Belle's signature logo, designed by Calgary ad agency, Wax.  

Onwards and upwards

As Barre Belle’s doors continuously welcome new students, Stuart can’t help but reflect on how incredible the journey up to this point has been.

“My mind has been blown. I’m so grateful. Every morning I wake up before my alarm. I’m so excited to teach,” she states.

“I hope it’s obvious how much the Barre Belle team loves what we do. We have such a strong group of instructors, all of whom come from a dance or fitness background, and our goal is to help our students succeed.”

“When we help someone transform their body, we get to be part of how they see themselves in the mirror. It’s important, because when someone’s attitude towards their body positively changes, they feel better about themselves and their whole life improves. To me, that’s incredible.”

And if anyone knows the importance of overcoming obstacles to build the life you want, it’s Kristi Stuart.