I have been so eager to publish this post. I wanted to publish it on a special day, and what better than the day we celebrate women everywhere.
In December 2017 I had the most wonderful time of my life in the town of Hungerford, England in the company of Esther Fairfax, the daughter of Lotte Berk, the woman whom we owe the invention of what we call Barre.
Lotte Berk was a German Jewish ballet dancer who emigrated to England during the war with her German husband who was also a British citizen. If not for their marriage, she too would have died in a concentration camp as her father and his wife did. Baby Esther would have had the same terrible destiny as well. She was 4 years old when they left Germany.
Lotte created the Lotte Berk Technique in London in the late 1950’s, out of her own ingenuity and her formal training as a dancer. It quickly became an instant hit. While Lotte took one physician’s advice to “tilt” her pelvis during some exercises to strengthen her lower back, contrary to what most articles report, her daughter Esther shared with me that Lotte did not invent this technique with the help of a Physical Therapist, nor an Osteopath, much less an Orthopedic Surgeon as some have suggested. She did it all on her own based on her many years of studying, performing and teaching dance.
You must be wondering why the technique is not called Lotte Berk if that is who invented it. Well, I learn from my many wonderful conversations with Esther, that unbeknownst to Lotte, she signed the rights to her name in the USA to a woman who befriended her in the 70’s and later trained with her to teach in the USA. According to what Lotte shared with Esther, Ms. Bach (who later changed the technique’s name to Barre), asked her to sign some paperwork which reportedly Lotte did not have assessed by an attorney. It wasn’t until a few years later when Lotte was about to release a book when she learned that she could not use her own name in the USA due to what she had signed. Esther shared with me that Lotte never recovered from this and became very suspicious and distrustful of others.
Esther Fairfax, her only daughter, learned the technique directly from her mother and perfected it. She has been teaching it for the last 46 years. At the age of 83 she continues to teach 4 times a week and to train others, who like me, want to teach the technique in its purest form.
Esther is a force of nature. She is full of energy, enthusiasm and more importantly, love. Most of her students who come to her studio have been following for 40+ years. She deeply cares for each and every single one them. Furthermore, she knows their bodies quite well. She knows what they can & cannot do. She truly is an amazing woman and an exceptional instructor.
Esther trains one person at a time, which allows her to concentrate on our strengths while also working on those areas where we need to improve. As her student, it also gave me the incredible and rare opportunity to interview her daily and to learn more about her life and Lotte's.
During my time training with Esther my body literally “shrunk” and though until very recently I thought I did not have the pictures to “prove it” while going through all my training videos, I took 2 screen shots of two different days working on a similar exercise with my back to the camera. The picture at the left was day 1 and the picture at the right was day 4. While I realize that there are many apps that could make this happen, there is absolutely no need for me to do so.
Those of you who have taken the class with me, can attest to the challenging exercises, which done on the regular basis, can and will change your body. And to sweeten the deal, since the workout focuses so much on core strengthening exercises, my Yoga practice has benefited greatly, especially in the arm balances department, an area in which I have struggled, mainly given my tight surgically reconstructed hips. Apparently, I also had weak upper abdominal muscles, a problem she says is typical in most Americans she has trained. I did not know this until Esther showed me some exercises to strengthen my upper abs. I thought I was going to die each and every time she made me do one of those exercises. When I teach that portion of the class most students share the same feeling, though they love how they feel afterwards.
Having trained with Esther was one of the biggest and better decisions of my life. Not only did I get a stronger body, I very much enjoyed every minute that I spent with Esther. She’s full of wonderful stories and her ability to listen to mine was such gift. I also had a great time with her team of lovely assistants, Jen & Bernie. Their dedication to the technique and to Esther is truly admirable.
If you know me you know how much I love to socialize. This allowed to me to bond with the beautiful people form the town of Hungerford in the most wonderful way. Most importantly, I feel as if I developed a strong connection with Lotte (whose remains are in Esther’s garden) and who despite her strong, eccentric and rather cross personality, managed to create an almost cult-like following that not only made her famous around the world, it made her a historic figure that changed the world by empowering women to exercise while still being feminine & feeling sexy.
Esther has written much about her mom. Her book ‘My Improper Mother and Me” was one of the gifts in the 90th Oscar’s nominees swag bags. A movie must, and I am sure, will be made about these two extraordinary women and their unique and at times, volatile, relationship. Esther’s ability to describe her mom’s personality and lifestyle as well as her own, is not only fresh and honest, it’s also incredibly passionate and good natured. It is definitely a must read!
I am beyond honored, not to mention way too excited and still in a bit of shock, that Esther included my name in that swag bag along with the names of the other 5 instructors that she has trained in the USA. I will proudly teach as many celebrities the Lotte Berk Technique and I will teach it just the way they both intended it to be; fun and challenging. Of course, I will also have to add my own The Monica Method twist to make it as unique and special as the classes and events some of you have had a chance to experience.