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La barre aquatique, the new ballet-based workout in Paris

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I have been passionate about ballet for a few years now and am a regular at Paris Opera Ballet shows. Just like you can love music without knowing how to play an instrument, I had never taken a ballet class in my life, until I had the chance to attend one given by a Paris Opera Ballet dancer – in a pool!

Cela fait plusieurs années que je me passionne pour la danse et me rends régulièrement aux spectacles du Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris alors que je n’ai jamais chaussé de pointes de ma vie. Tout comme on peut apprécier l’art sans savoir peindre ou être ému par la musique sans jouer d’instrument. Alors quand le Studio des Grands Augustins m’a proposé de prendre mon tout premier cours de danse – dans l’eau ! – avec un danseur de l’Opéra, j’ai sauté sur l’occasion.

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Located in the quaint neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des Prés, the Studio des Grands Augustins is run by a team of sports experts: a physiotherapist and a massage therapist who both treat Paris Opera Ballet dancers, Pilates instructors and POB dancers who double as barre class teachers. Instead of focusing solely on treating injuries, they decided to work on preventing them as well. Their new activity, “barre aquatique”, is basically a barre class in a pool. The ballet exercises are carried out without being hindered by the weight of the body all while playing with water resistance.

Le Studio des Grands Augustins est un centre niché dans le quartier de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. L’équipe constituée de professionnels du sport (ostéopathe-kinésithérapeute, masseur, professeurs de Pilates, danseurs) a pris le parti de laisser une plus grande place au préventif au lieu de suivre les patients uniquement dans le cadre de blessures. La barre aquatique est née de ce constat : les mouvements permettent de travailler en douceur en étant moins gêné par le poids du corps, tout en jouant avec la résistance de l’eau.

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And so I took my 1st ballet class on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago in a pool heated at 33°C. The teacher of the day was Leila Dilhac who created the barre aquatique classes with Gregory Dominiak. Though I was a beginner, she expected me to be familiar with dance positions, which was not the case. Nevermind, I quickly learned what 1st position and rond de jambe meant. We started the class by warming up our abdominal and back muscles, and then went on to typical barre exercises: pliés, dégagés, grands battements… The other people in my group had 20 years of ballet experience so obviously it was harder for me to keep up. I appreciated that the teacher adapted the exercises for me and took the time to correct me. Classes are given to up to 4 people at a time, which allows instructors to give more attention to each student. The hour of barre aquatique is done over music as in a regular ballet class and ends with a few minutes of relaxation.

Arrivée au Studio un dimanche après-midi, je me hâte de plonger dans le bassin chauffé à 33 degrés. Quand on prévient le professeur du jour Leila Dilhac que je suis débutante, elle s’attend à ce que je connaisse quand même le vocabulaire de la danse. Ce n’est pas le cas mais peu importe : je me familiarise en express avec la  1ère position, la 2ème, les ronds de jambe et autres mouvements. On commence par un échauffement des abdominaux et des muscles du dos pour ensuite enchaîner avec des exercices habituels d’un cours de danse classique : pliés, dégagés, travail du port de bras, grands battements… Mes camarades de classe ont 20 ans de danse derrière eux et je suis forcément à la traîne, mais la prof adapte rapidement les exercices à mes capacités et prend le temps de me corriger. Heureusement, les cours de barre aquatique se font en petit effectif (4 personnes maximum), ce qui permet un meilleur suivi. L’heure se passe en musique et se termine par quelques minutes de relaxation.

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What surprised me the most over the hour of class is the number of details that go into each dance movement. You have to keep in mind to pull your stomach in, keep your legs straight and en dehors, and pay attention to the position of your hand for example. Sometimes the movements I made after the teacher showed them to us and then after she corrected me felt completely different. I found it also harder to be aware of my positions without having a mirror to guide me.

Dans l’immédiat, j’apprécie à quel point les mouvements de danse, en apparence simples, sont constitués d’une multitude de détails. Je dois penser à rentrer le ventre et les fesses, garder mes jambes tendues et tournées en dehors, laisser ma main dans le prolongement du bras pour ne pas casser la ligne. Entre ce que j’effectue de moi-même et les corrections de la prof, ce n’est parfois pas du tout le même exercice. Aussi il n’y a pas de miroir pour mieux prendre conscience de sa position.

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I felt very relaxed immediately after class. The next day, my muscles ached gently even though I did not feel like it had been a big workout. Within the following week, I had a much better posture and felt the need to stretch more. I really appreciated the positive effects this first barre aquatique session had on my body and I already miss them a couple of weeks later.

Malgré tout, je suis toute détendue après le cours. Le lendemain, je ressens des courbatures alors que je n’avais pas eu l’impression de produire un grand effort, preuve que la barre aquatique fait travailler le corps en douceur. Dans la semaine qui suit, je prends meilleure conscience de ma posture, me tiens beaucoup plus droite et m’étire régulièrement. Des effets très appréciables qui me manquent 2 semaines plus tard !

Un grand merci au Studio des Grands Augustins de m’avoir offert ce cours, ainsi qu’à Joséphine et Laura. Pictures are by Camille Studio; I was too busy dancing to take my own!

Studio des Grands Augustins – 3, rue des Grands-Augustins (Paris VIe). 45 € le cours, 40 € à partir de 5 cours

The Louvre – A few tips on how to visit the museum

Louvre Pyramid

It’s Bastille Day in France and the entrance to the Louvre is exceptionally free to celebrate. Today also marks the reopening of the Islamic Art gallery after this spring’s floods. The Louvre is the subject of popular posts on my blog: the Napoleon III rooms and the Ancient Egypt mummies still figure among my most-read posts years after I wrote them. So I thought I’d round up a few pieces of advice for your next visit.

Louvre Victoire de Samothrace

Is the Louvre the right museum for you? Make sure the kind of art you want to see can indeed be viewed at the Louvre. Its collections cover art until 1848. If your thing is Impressionism, head to Musée d’Orsay (which I much prefer, by the way). Likewise, if you like Modern art only, you will need to explore other options.

Watch out for free entrance days. If you can, visit on one of the 1st Sundays of the month when the entrance is free (October to March). Otherwise, tickets are at 15€.

Arrive early in the morning. I waited about 30 minutes before entering, which is reasonable. When I glimpsed outside later in the day, I saw the lines had extended far beyond what I had expected.

Louvre Baigneuse Valpincon IngresLouvre Lady in BlueLouvre Girl in pink

Prepare your itinerary and target only a few galleries to visit. The Louvre is HUGE and you won’t be able to see it all within 1 day. (You probably gathered from the pictures above that I am a 19th-century fangirl.)

Wear comfortable shoes. See above: the Louvre is huge and you will be walking for hours.

Louvre Joconde Mona Lisa

Be prepared to fight your way to see Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is no doubt a masterpiece, but do not expect a life-changing experience when viewing it. The painting is kept under a glass case. Visitors are kept at a distance with a cord. Dozens of people try to catch a decent glimpse, picture or selfie while security guards loudly chat about what they did the night before. In short, there is no way you can truly appreciate the painting in these conditions.

 

Louvre AngelinaLouvre Angelina cakes

Lunch! I enjoyed lunch at Angelina. Their restaurant is within the museum, a short walk from Napoléon III’s apartments. Yes, it is a bit pricey but it has a view on the Pyramid. And if your entrance to the Louvre was free, well, I believe that you can treat yourself to balance things out. Otherwise, there are lunch options underneath the Pyramid but they were less attractive. The choice was limited to a windowless cafeteria or a Paul with very few seats.

View from Louvre on Pyramid

Look out for stunning views of Paris. Don’t just look at the art.

Louvre Objets d'art 1Louvre Objets d'art 2

If you do not have the time to visit Versailles, visit the Department of Decorative Arts. The rooms hold collections similar to what you would see in the palace outside Paris. While beautiful, it does not have the same emotional dimension as if you where really in Versailles though.

Louvre Pavillon de l'Horloge

Check out the history of the Louvre. While you may not choose to visit the newly-organized Pavillon de l’Horloge, where you can learn all about the history of the palace, it would be a shame not to look it up. The Louvre was the home of the Kings of France up until Louis XIV lived in Versailles. You can still see the medieval part of the building, which is quite impressive.

Louvre Flamands

Enjoy your visit! If you have other advice on how to best visit the Louvre, I would love to hear about it.