Winter, early 2010. Julia Erickson, a Principal Dancer for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, is rehearsing for the defining role of her career: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Now more than ever, she needs her body to perform at 110 percent. She needs it well-fueled, strong and full of graceful endurance. Her future as a ballerina depends on it.
But she had long been frustrated with the protein and energy bars on the market, most of them too full of Franken-gredients and sugar alcohols to effectively nourish and fuel her body through all-day rehearsals with very few breaks for meals.
So she goes to her own kitchen. A longtime "foodie" who loves to experiment with healthy foods, Julia plays around with the ingredients in her cupboard and came up with a nutty, fruity energy bar that also happens to be delicious. Barre Bar is born. And with the help of her partner and fellow ballet pro, Tallahassee, Florida native Aaron Ingley, Barre Bar today is a growing success.
Badass CEO side note: I would have loved to be a dancer like Julia and Aaron. My childhood was unstable, with too many relocations, custody exchanges and adults in charge making really poor choices.
So to this day, I am fascinated with dancers, gymnasts and others who use their bodies with such grace and coordination. My early years shaped me and made me stronger, yet I regret that I was never able to enroll in dance, gymnastics, ballet, etc. -- areas where I suspect my petite frame would have excelled.
All of this makes me respect and admire dancers and gymnasts all the more. And now that I use my body every day for fitness, we are kindred spirits in at least one way: We need the right fuel to fuel our "performance." Theirs is more swan-like. Mine is more gritty bootcamp-like. But the clean calories we need for muscular endurance and overall energy are very much the same.
Which brings me back to Barre Bar, the first energy bar developed and marketed specifically for the dance community. In just two years, the bars have grown from being a favorite among Julia's and Aaron's circle of fellow ballerinas to being sold in 170 dance studios and 30 Whole Foods markets nationwide. It's also available in small health food stores like HoneyTree Natural Foods here in Tallahassee, just a few miles from where Aaron grew up performing in the Young Actors Theater. Whole Foods loves and endorses the product so much, the organic healthy foods chain recently asked Barre Bar to develop a new flavor in conjunction with the opening of a new Whole Foods in a Pittsburgh suburb.
"Once we realized that there really wasn't a food product on the market for the professional dance world, and when we saw there was a need for a healthy, nutritious snack for young dancers, our scope of business grew pretty quickly," says Aaron, 34, who runs Barre Bar day to day while Julia continues to dance full time. He spent a few minutes chatting with me Sunday afternoon, as he drove to a Whole Foods event in D.C.
It's no surprise Whole Foods loves Barre Bar. Combine the crunchy, chewy and sweet taste of KIND and Lara bars, add in a few "superfood" ingredients, and you get Barre Bar. I tried the 2 original flavors (my favorite in Pirouette Cinnamon Pecan) and the new one, Spirulina Ballerina, and I love them all.
"Yeah, we describe it as a souped-up Lara Bar," Aaron says.
Consider the Black Swan Chocolate Berry: Dates, agave nectar, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seed butter (sunflower kernels, sunflower oil, molasses, salt, citric acid), cranberries, cocoa powder, hemp seed, hemp protein, oats, ground flax seed, brown rice protein, sea salt, peanuts. Simple. The result? A very healthy 210 calories, with 22 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein, and 12 grams (all healthy fats). The sugar it does contain is completely natural, derived from the agave nectar, fruit and molasses.
This is exactly what the body needs before, during or after endurance activities - whether it is a long bike ride, a triathlon, or ballet practice that runs several hours long.
"In the Pittsburgh Ballet, we would have six hours of rehearsal, and that was after a ballet class in the morning," Aaron says. "We would only get 5 minute breaks every hour. There just isn't time to do much eating, and that's where the energy bars are necessary. Julia and I aren't vegan or vegetarian or any one food practice; we just care about what we put into our bodies. And while we aren't nutritionists, we know from our own experience as performers what works for our bodies."
What works is real food. And that is what Barre Bar is, through and through. So yes, I'll have another!
Coming up: Why being a Foodie Pen Pal rocks, and a do-anywhere Tabata cross-training butt-kicker!