Entering WeBarre’s Tanjong Pagar studio, I was greeted by a room that looked like a cross between a dance and yoga studio.
Not knowing what to expect, I settled on one of the available mats and quietly observed other attendees, who were either doing some light stretches or scrolling through their phones.
Fiddling with the tiny dumbbells placed at the side of my mat, I remembered reading on their website that this fundamentals class was doable for pregnant ladies and/or new moms.
“How difficult could it be, right?”
Well, it was probably one of the toughest hours of my life.
Grasping on tightly to a rubber ball that constantly threatened to slip out my sweaty palms, my body trembled as I struggled to perform the simplest stretches.
In spite of the burn I felt in my muscles – some of which I never knew existed – the bright, encouraging voice of Anabel Chew, co-founder of WeBarre and the instructor of my class, telling us how we were “doing great” and how wonderful we looked kept me smiling through the pain.
“You all are doing so well! I wish I could IG story how coordinated you guys are,” she quipped as she went around, checking on each of us and correcting our posture.
Not wanting to disappoint her, I drowned out the physical agony in the upbeat music.
Soon enough, the lesson was over.
Heading over to the front desk to thank Anabel for hosting me, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a very friendly, casual atmosphere at the studio, with staff and students chatting like friends in between classes.
Anabel’s warmth was apparent even over our email exchange, and it’s no surprise why WeBarre seems to be such a comfortable place for its members too.
Leaping From Music And Marketing To Entrepreneurship
Anabel (32) and Linda Tang (34) are the founders of WeBarre, a Singaporean studio teaching the WeBarre method, created by professional dancer Rachael Fraser.
WeBarre is Fraser’s take on barre, a workout that combines elements of ballet, yoga, pilates, and strength training.
Perhaps another reason why it’s so popular is because there aren’t many barre-iers (pun intended) to practicing it.
Despite its roots in ballet, no dance experience is required to get started.
Both self-professed “fitness fanatics”, Anabel was drawn to barre because it “combines the gracefulness of ballet with the safety principles of pilates”.
I would consider myself pretty fit, but the burn that I got from barre was just out of this world! It was so addictive, but mostly important, [it was also] effective.
Then, she was a professional musician who performed and taught the flute.
However, her love for barre was so strong that she underwent training to become a barre instructor in a bid to take her passion to the next level.
While the programme eventually fell through due to the studio’s closure, it was where she met co-founder Linda, who was doing Marketing at a FMCG brand in Unilever then.
“We continued talking about how wonderful barre would be if it got introduced to Singapore,” said Anabel.
With yoga and HIIT being the more popular fitness classes then, the duo were “strapped for options”, and couldn’t find any studios dedicated to barre in Singapore.
I think we clearly identified a gap in the market and saw a good business opportunity. That was our ‘push’ in that if we don’t do it now, someone else will.
“We were in the right place and right time, so we really wanted to get it out there.”
“In Asia, maybe women in particular desire for lean, long, and toned muscles without having to ‘bulk up’, so barre is perfect!”
In January 2016, the first WeBarre studio on Tanjong Pagar Road was opened.
Diving In With No Holds Barre-d
With no prior experience in running a business, Anabel and Linda needed to “learn the ropes from down up – be it in graphic design, payroll, mentoring, operations, or digital campaigns”.
“We had very little time and little money, but had to pull in all our resources to learn as quickly as we could,” recalled Anabel.
Beyond that, the concept of barre was still new in Singapore, so the newly-minted entrepreneurs needed to convince fitness fans that there were more ways to get fit than just doing yoga or cardio.
“Organic word-of-mouth was really effective for us, even up until today” revealed Anabel.
When people experience something great, they tell their friends about it, and that’s what we’ve built our brand on.
“The classes are overwhelmingly popular and took off by storm!”
This statement was corroborated by my colleague, who told me that WeBarre lessons are notoriously difficult to clinch on Classpass because users will ‘camp’ on the database, waiting to snatch a spot.
Raising The Barre
Currently, there are 4 WeBarre studios in Singapore, with all of them located in the CBD and central Singapore. The WeBarre method is also taught at a few licensed studios around Singapore.
For WeBarre, their studio locations are dependant on demand.
For example, their Telok Ayer studio, while just a 7-8 minute walk from their Tanjong Pagar studio, was opened to “transfer and open up more room for existing clients”.
When asked if they have any plans to open in the heartlands (think: Bedok, Yishun, Jurong), Anabel said that while there are currently no plans to do so, “never say never!”
Perhaps due to the feminine nature of ballet, WeBarre clientele are also largely (90%) working females between the ages of 25 to 45.
Anabel admitted that while women are their target market, she wants to dispel the misconception that barre is just for ladies.
“It’s great for men too! It’s not a dance class, it’s a fitness class based on ballet positions and technique.”
“Zero dance background is required, and you don’t have to be flexible to do barre!”
“We’ve Achieved Something Beyond Just Running A Business”
With around 14,000 members in their database currently, Anabel shared that the most satisfying moment of running WeBarre to date isn’t just growing quickly in a relatively short time, it’s also being able to maintain a consistent execution and experience throughout their different studios.
But more than that, her sense of pride stems from the people she meets and “the lives [WeBarre has] impacted in small and large ways”.
“The stories we hear from our clients about how they’ve transformed really warms our heart and is beyond satisfying.”
It makes us feel like we’ve achieved something beyond just running a business, and that we’re making a social impact.
WeBarre has soared in popularity in just 3 years and become a lifestyle for its members in Singapore, but they also have their sights set regionally to “become Asia’s #1”.
“We are looking at Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok, Bali, and even Manila. If we find the right partner, you’ll see us in those cities hopefully real soon!”
I’d like to thank Anabel for her time (and words of encouragement during class)!
- Find out more about WeBarre, or book a class here.