After suffering a severe back injury in the 1960s, ballerina Lotte Berk created a fitness system that combined rehabilitative therapy with ballet barre work. And thanks to dance fitness techniques like The Bar Method, Physique 57, Fluidity, Go Figure and others developed by the late Berk’s former students, her revolutionary approach lives on. Here we examine the two most popular Berk offshoots as a way for dance teachers to stay in tip-top shape during the summer months.
THE BAR METHOD
THE CONCEPT: A sculpting workout that combines dance conditioning, interval training and muscle toning
HOW IT EVOLVED: Creator Burr Leonard studied with Lotte Berk for 10 years, during which time she opened a number of LB studios in Connecticut. “I started breaking down the exercises and restructuring them to be safer and more targeted,” says Leonard of The Bar Method’s genesis. Since launching her method independently in 2001, she has continued to refine and finesse the technique: “I think of The Bar Method as a live language that is always getting better through study, knowledge and experience.”
BODY BENEFITS: Along with fat-burning benefits, a heavy focus on form results in improved body alignment, grace and coordination. Leonard says dancers rave about the rehabilitative aspects: “We’ve had some former ballerinas say they can now go back to their dance classes and feel great.”
TYPICAL CLASS STRUCTURE: After warming up, students proceed to strength training via free-weight work and push-ups. Heel lifts and thigh stretches come next, followed by seat work in various positions. The second half of class is spent sitting under the barre doing leg and ab exercises, and it finishes with a final stretch. “The joy of The Bar Method workout is the burn and the feeling of the stretch,” says Leonard.
THE TOOLS: Ballet barre, free weights, exercise mats and stretching straps
FUN FACT: The sky seems to be the limit for The Bar Method’s positive effects on dance technique, says Leonard. “So much power is developed in the thighs that dancers can leap to the ceiling during changement.”
CELEBRITY DEVOTEES: An impressive number of boldface names have flocked to The Bar Method’s West Hollywood studio, including Drew Barrymore, Alicia Silverstone, Zooey Deschanel, Kyra Sedgwick, Tori Spelling and Ginnifer Goodwin.
PLANS FOR GROWTH: With 25 locations around the country, the franchise is spreading like wildfire—with new locations planned in Newport Beach, California; Boulder, Colorado; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and NYC.
THE CONCEPT: A one-hour class that involves a series of strengthening and stretching exercises that incorporate isometric movements and resistance training
HOW IT EVOLVED: After “falling in love” with the Lotte Berk Method in the early ’90s, Physique 57 co-founder Tanya Becker decided to step up the intensity with her own Berk-based workout. Her approach? Melding cardio and choreography with Berk’s focus on strengthening and stretching. “Lotte Berk is a bit more one-dimensional with moves like pulses and relevés,” says Becker. “We use the body in different angles against gravity.” For example, Physique 57 places the body in various positions, while doing choreographic moves and using props like playground balls.
BODY BENEFITS: “A Physique 57 body is strong and sexy—it’s not about being skinny, but instead really fit with toned muscles,” says Becker. “It’s also about developing long lines aesthetically.” Among the technique’s other benefits: increased bone density, higher metabolism, cardiovascular fitness and better endurance.
TYPICAL CLASS STRUCTURE: Designed like interval training, Physique 57 classes begin with an arms sequence, followed by thighs, seat, abs, lower-back strengthening and a cool-down stretch. Positions range from the “V” (a more narrow, turned-out first position with heels glued together) to the attitude-based “pretzel.”
THE TOOLS: Ballet barre, five- to eight-pound weights, playground balls, karate belts for stretching and a stall bar—a hardwood, ladder-like device. “We hang on it to lengthen the vertebrae,” explains Becker.
FUN FACT: Physique 57 was named for its plum location on New York City’s 57th Street. (There are two other locations in Manhattan and the Hamptons.)
CELEBRITY DEVOTEES: “Lipstick Jungle” vixen Kim Raver and talk show queen Kelly Ripa have gone on record as big fans of this method.
PLANS FOR GROWTH: Though Physique 57 is currently only available in New York, those who live outside of the Big Apple can try it out for free with online webisodes at: www.physique57.com/tanyas_tips.html
DANCE ON DVD
If you live outside the locales of The Bar Method and Physique 57, no need to make a mega-long
commute! These more-than-effective DVDs make staying in shape as easy as staying in your living room:
The Bar Method: Change Your Body! and The Bar Method: Accelerated Workout
Core Rhythms: Dance Exercise Program, Starter Pack
Dancing with the Stars: Latin Cardio
Lotte Berk Method: 4-Disc Series
Zumba Fitness DVD Kit
Photo by Kate Beal; Courtesy of The Bar Method