Downtown Santa Barbara often seems to be linked to bad economic news, but there are many exceptional businesses that are thriving.
One of them is barre3 at 761 Chapala St. The workout studio’s popularity has been growing over the last 4½ years, and its neighbors — Lux Nails & Spa, Kyle’s Kitchen, Sachi Ramen & Robata Bar, Kanaloa Seafood and Breakfast, the hipster surf-themed coffee spot — have brought a healthy buzz to the block across from Paseo Nuevo.
When I fell off the workout wagon (again), it was suggested to me by my women’s network to try barre3, a fun hour that would cover cardio, strength training and mindfulness, and help improve my energy level and strength.
Just mention the word barre and many people think you have to be a dancer, wear a leotard and will have to perform strict ballet work, and I was no exception. I had tried other barre classes but had not stuck with them.
Having signed up for a two-week, unlimited class special for newbies, I was apprehensive on Day One. But my new-girl jitters were quickly dispelled when I met owner Mindy Sofro.
Sofro — a Santa Barbara resident for the last 22 years — grew up in Eugene, Ore., and attended the University of Oregon, where she earned a business degree and then worked in marketing and sales.
As a lifelong friend of barre3 co-founder and CEO Sadie Lincoln, however, she realized her dream of owning a franchise of her own four years ago when the Chapala Street storefront became available.
The warm and inviting space has a ballet barre, mirrored walls, large windows for natural light, a sprawling cork floor, high ceilings and ceiling fans, light resistant hand weights, bands, balls and towels.
With limited online signups or drop-ins for “Mind Body,” the room was filled but not overly crowded. Although I felt awkward and clumsy at first, I quickly learned to follow Sofro or the other certified instructors.
The hour flew by, and the session included a full body workout combining strength conditioning, cardio, and stretching and breathing.
In the early weeks, I frequently found myself watching my classmates, who ranged in age from teens to 70s. I learned the routines, made modifications when necessary and tried to not overly judge my body. Most of all, I just had fun — which was easy to do given the chatting and camaraderie that continued before and after class.
“At barre3, we’re proudly shaking up the fitness industry that’s been built on shame, guilt and an attempt to live up to someone’s else’s impossible ideal,” Sofro told Noozhawk.
“We believe you are already enough just as you are right now. We don’t buy into the notion that you need to be fixed or altered. Exercise should be fun and it should feel good.”
She said the studio aims to challenge its clients but believes barre3’s adaptive and flexible approach allows them to move and sweat in ways that serve them, “even on the days they don’t feel 100 percent.”
Sofro loves being downtown and accessible to all parts of Santa Barbara. She enjoys getting to know her clients and hearing about their successes outside the studio, like the brand-new mom who attributed her delivery room stamina to her regular barre3 practice or the client who climbed Mount Whitney after training with her. Even yours truly, who has found the connection between driving my heel down and glut strength in my golf swing.
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.