Raising the barre

Town Barre owner Michelle Nigro opened a new Marblehead studio in late February. 

The trendy workout finds a new home locally


Women of all ages are flocking to a new bar in town — where fitness, not alcohol, is served.

Swampscott resident Michelle Nigro opened her own studio, Town Barre, on Tioga Way in Marblehead (in the same complex as CrossFit Marblehead) in late February. She offers daily barre classes, as well as cardio dance and TRX® suspension training classes.

Vanessa Carvallo concentrates on her leg work.
Vanessa Carvallo concentrates on her leg work.

The biggest fitness craze since Soul Cycle and other spinoffs (no pun intended), barre is a mix of yoga, Pilates, ballet and other disciplines all in one. I’ll admit, I’ve been hooked since stepping barefoot into my first class at the Bar Method in Boston two years ago. The parallel bar itself — which looks like the typical ballet bar of our youth — is used as a prop to balance while doing exercises that focus on isometric strength training.

“It’s a concentrated effort on squeezing the muscles with these tiny, repetitive movements,” says Nigro. “It’s perfect for all ages and abilities, because you can do it as intensely as you want to.”

Classes are designed to help you burn calories,while improving posture and flexibility.In addition to the bar as a prop, instructors like Nigro also incorporate exercise balls and bands for tension, handheld weights for arm work and mats for targeted core work. Nigro says consistency is key when you want to see results, which is why Town Barre offers an unlimited membership at $125 each month. Considering drop-in prices elsewhere will cost you around $25, it’s not a bad deal.

“I’d say the sweet spot is taking classes a minimum of three to four times a week,” Nigro says. “If you’re running two days and taking two classes, that works too, but you can’t expect to see progress if you’re just dropping in once a month.”

Nigro, a 2008 graduate of Swampscott High, was inspired to pursue a career in fitness after participating in a barre class at a studio in Chestnut Hill a couple years ago.

“I was shocked by how fast the hour flew by, and by how many different muscles we worked,” she says.

Barre became an outlet for her to unwind and have fun after work. Little did she know, a seed was being planted that would soon put her at the head of the class. She trained and was certified as a barre instructor in June of 2015, started teaching her first classes in October of that year and quit her job in public relations a few months later to pursue the dream full-time. Until she found studio space of her own this year, she was teaching out of spaces in Swampscott, Lynn and Marblehead.

“I never thought I’d be doing this,” says Nigro, who graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism at Emerson College. “But I had to step back and ask, ‘what makes me happy?’”

Nigro knew a little something about work making her happy, having been a Patriots cheerleader for four years — a span that included two Super Bowl seasons (when they lost to the Giants in 2012 and when they beat the Seahawks two years ago).

“Going through the players’ tunnel was probably my favorite part of the game,” says Nigro. “It was just an incredible experience, and not just on the field. Some of the appearances, especially through Make-a-Wish, I’ll remember forever.”

“I had fun and worked hard, but you know you can’t do that for the rest of your life,” she continues.

Julia Mazepa uses a TRX band during class.
Julia Mazepa uses a TRX band during class.

Ironically, a couple other former Patriots cheerleaders have found a second career in dance and fitness and are working with Nigro now. Danielle Beatrice, who owns Studio 21 in Swampscott, cheered from 2007-2009, and Salem native Siobhan O’Keefe, now an accountant by day, cheered from 2010-2013. Beatrice is teaching barre, while O’Keefe is teaching cardio dance at Town Barre. Beatrice was also one of the first to rent Nigro studio space when she was starting out.

“We’ve come full circle because Danielle was actually the assistant coach of the dance team when I was on the team in high school,” says Nigro, who describes Beatrice as one of her mentors through this journey.

Looking back to her high school days, Nigro was also captain of the Big Blue field hockey team, and though she admits that she was anxious to leave the borders of 01907 back then, she’s grateful to be back home now.

“The commute couldn’t be easier,” she says with a laugh. “But I do really enjoy it. I can teach a class and go have lunch by the beach. I love being by the ocean, which is so calming. And I love that it’s still a small town, where everyone knows each other. Growing up, I used to think the term ‘townie’ was a bad thing. Now, my whole attitude has changed. I want to be back and raise children of my own here.” That townie mentality, in part, is what inspired the studio’s name, Town Barre.

“I was thinking about local town bars, like Maddie’s, which are comfortable places that you’re excited to go to and see friends,” she says. “It was a play on that.”

“I want people to feel like this is their happy place,” she continues. Looking at the smiles on the faces of the women walking in (wearing shirts with phrases like “happy hour at the barre” on them), I think it’s safe to say she’s succeeded.

Photos: Reba Saldanha