Colorado native Nadia Walker grew up a dancer and gymnast. Even though she always loved movement, professionally, her life veered in another direction and she worked as a hair stylist for 14 years. But when a friend finally dragged her to a barre class, her life changed.
That night after her first session of pulsing, she couldn’t sleep: She told her husband over and over she wanted to open a barre studio. And even though she had never owned a business, 90 days later, she opened her first studio in the Denver area. The business approach was largely—yet successfully—built on trial and error, and she used her childhood background and market research to craft her technique. Within a year, she opened another studio, rebranding and moving into licensing and beyond.
Now Barre Forte boasts six locations that offer challenging and fun classes all set to pumped-up music. Plus, a 2-day teacher training program rounds out the company’s structure. SBS chatted with Nadia to hear how she built her company on instinct and perseverance, and how Barre Forte's approach differentiates from other options!
SBS: What’s Barre Forte’s signature, and how did you come up with it?
Nadia Walker: It’s a killer workout in 15-minute sections. It’s full-body throughout, though. Even if we are working the thighs, the upper body is still engaged. For example, you might be holding a plank while working the booty.
When we first started, we took what we loved and what we didn’t like from what we had seen and came up with our own format. We wanted a program that was more challenging, so we have zero breaks. We make sure we completely fatigue each muscle we work before we move into the stretch. Every single class is different, and the music is a key aspect.
We also developed our own two-day barre training program from what we had learned, along with my background in dance and gymnastics. You learn everything from ballet terminology to how to put together an hour-long barre class.
SBS: How does music play into your classes?
NW: Our music plays a huge part in the motivation in class. We mix all of our music in house, and we push the limits a bit. We’re not conservative. We’ll allow a cuss word to be thrown in every now and then. We don’t want to stay totally mainstream.
That’s all part also of steering away from the stuffy barre stigma, from the music to the verbiage of the instructors. Ballet itself is a conservative form of dance, and since barre stems from that, sometimes barre studios take that on too. But that’s not our vibe at Barre Forte.
SBS: So, what’s the studio vibe at Barre Forte locations?
NW: We ensure high energy and motivating instructors. And we also create a big sense of community. There’s no feeling of competition; everyone is working hard. From the minute the client walks in, we want to learn about who they are, what they do and make sure they’re introduced to everyone. That way they never feel awkward. It can be intimidating to go to a new gym or studio, so we immediately make them feel at home.
SBS: What have you learned as a first-time business owner?
NW: I’ve had to learn everything from mixing music and social media to graphics, and I’ve done so mostly through trial and error. First, I learned word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing. And, I think the most important thing is partnership and being involved in the community. We do pop-up classes like crazy, at the zoo, restaurants, and even the Park Meadows mall. We donate to every possible charity. It’s a business, but it has to feel more personal.
SBS: What’s your advice for a barre newbie?
NW: Don’t take yourself too seriously! The first time is a total mess, and that’s ok! Be patient with yourself. It takes a few times.
SBS: What’s the feedback you’ve received?
NW: People are not necessarily losing pounds but their body composition is changing. I’ve had clients tell me they can fit into high school uniforms. It changes your physique.
SBS: What makes a good barre teacher?
NW: A good teacher will teach to the class, and a bad teacher will teach for herself, focusing on her own workout.
SBS: How did you choose to structure your company?
NW: We have six locations: four in Colorado, one in Gainesville, FL, and one in Wichita, KS. We decided to go with a license set-up instead of franchises so the studio owners have more flexibility with how they decide to grow their studio. Every area has a different demographic. They need to be able to customize each studio. Cookie-cutter franchises don’t work. We need to adapt and grow with the needs of an area in mind.
SBS: What are a few of your favorite Barre Forte moves?
NW: I love 'Drop it like it’s hot.' It's a thigh move: In first position, relevé up, then drop your booty down to your heels, forming a diamond with your knees as your hips are tucked. As you lift to the halfway point, close your knees.
Then, I like bridging with your heels on top of the barre, pushing down, for hamstring work.
And for the triceps, lay face down with your arms lifted straight behind you. Push your feet and hip points down as you lift light weights up, pulsing, circling and so on.
SBS: What type of classes does Barre Forte offer?
NW: We have many different formats: Barre Hustle is a cardio format and includes traditional barre moves integrated with six hustle bursts throughout the hour; Below the Belt is everything you can think of...below the belt; Barre Sculpt uses heavier weights in a larger range of motion; Barre X uses TRX straps, and since it's a circuit class, you go at your own pace; and finally, Barre Fuse is a combo of everything. It's the most dance-based of all our formats.
SBS: What makes your certification unique?
NW: First off, we offer convenience. We can come to you or you can come to us since we offer two locally a year. The certification is also recognized by ACE and NASM, and it's also great for continuing education points.
Nadia’s Denver Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: True Food Kitchen
Splurge Restaurant: Los Dos Potrillos or Cafe Jordano
Calming Activity: Mixing music for barre class
Fun Activity: Watching Karaoke
Fitness Studio: Bounce Society Fitness in California
Athleticwear: I’m a Fabletics ambassador, and I also love Lululemon.
Athletic Shoes: I’m on an Adidas and New Balance kick, specifically the New Balance 401s.
Online Resource: YouTube
Book: I'm currently reading You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. I like her enthusiasm and optimism.
Nadia’s SBS Mantra: Be Fearless! I believe you have to take risks, and risks are scary. Sometimes you have to put your big girl pants on. Don't look down, and just leap!
The best, zaniest part of being Nadia: Everything about me is unconventional. Most people say I’m an anomaly. Zany is my middle name!