Raising The Barre: Nikki Branning Made the Best New Workout Buddy
How a Broadway dancer turned her pursuit for the perfect workout into a promising new product as beautiful as it is effective.
“We’re sparkling from the side of our body,” says Nikki Branning, who is smiling through sets of a particularly grueling standing obliques series featured in one of her at-home barre workouts. Decked out in yoga pants, a tank top and a white scrunchie pulling back her blonde hair, Branning is streaming from her house, so it feels like you’re working out with a friend. And, if you know Branning, you know peppy motivational quips like these are what make her such a phenomenal instructor and her upbeat classes equal parts fun and sweat-inducing. The vivacious Coconut Grove resident launched Door Barre Fitness in 2020, her own spin on the popular low-impact, high intensity workouts that combine Pilates, yoga and ballet. Not only does she offer on-demand, livestream and private classes, but she sells an actual “door barre” that she designed to make practicing at home easier—and more effective—than before.
The idea for Door Barre had been floating around in Branning’s head for four years. After the Tampa native graduated from Florida State University with a BFA in dance in 2009, she traveled the world—44 countries to be exact—working as a principal dancer on cruise ships and performing in national Broadway tours, including "Dirty Dancing" and "The Bodyguard."
“I was frustrated during my travels that I couldn’t always get to a barre studio,” Branning, 34, explains. “It was impossible to do correct barre exercises at home or on the road. Plus, I couldn’t effectively pull my weight off a chair or counter for many positions and exercises.” During one particular subpar sweat session, she dreamt up a portable barre that checked off all the boxes she was looking for in a fitness product: sturdy, sleek, easy to set up, affordable, visually appealing and compact enough to take on the go.
Even though the concept seemed relatively simple in theory, Branning found that the prototype process was a lot to juggle with her job as a full-time performer. However, whenever she found spare time, she’d meet with local Florida designers about drawings and measurements.
“It started out with lots of 3D parts, but I always used a piece of wood for the barre itself. I really wanted it to feel like you were in a studio with a smooth, beautiful barre to hold onto,” she says. “The method of attachment to the door also went through many trial and error variations.” Unfortunately, due to Branning’s demanding schedule, her barre-building project was shelved until coronavirus hit.
“Then I had all the time in the world to make my dream company come true,” Branning says. “It was the perfect time to launch my business because the entire country was working out from home, and I was thrilled to help contribute to so many people welcoming at-home barre into their lives during such a difficult period.”
Branning finetuned the details to make a workout aid that was equal parts user-friendly and eye-catching. The result: A finished barre handcrafted out of smooth red oak that sets up in less than a minute, fits into a suitcase, attaches to any door and holds up to 250 pounds of weight. The entire product, from the craftsmanship to the packaging, is made in Miami.
Beyond the physical barre, Door Barre Fitness is also a virtual studio. When she was a dancer living and auditioning in New York City, Branning taught workout classes as a side hustle. While she was in the Big Apple, she fell in love with teaching (and taking) barre since it was a total-body, low impact and high intensity workout. Beyond her choreographed livestreams, Door Barre’s on-demand digital library offers a range of classes catering to all fitness levels, time restraints and muscle groups, from ten-minute arms to barre cardio to stretching videos.
“I generate new content constantly. So everything you can do in the studio, you can now do at home,” Branning says. She also offers modifications for injuries or for pregnancy—the latter she knows well considering she welcomed her first child during quarantine while launching Door Barre Fitness. “I truly live by the words that barre is for everybody,” she says. “It is the only workout that has kept me strong, graceful and happy.”