Burr was born Ellen Burr Leonard in Atlanta, Georgia on May 16th, 1947. Her sister Mimi arrived a year and a half later. Burr’s father George was an editor at Look Magazine and later wrote books about human potential. One of these books, “Mastery,” became a foundational guide for The Bar Method®.
Burr at age 6
The family moved to Connecticut, San Francisco and then New York City. Burr developed into a shy tomboy who won friends as a teenager by teaching herself to play the guitar. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley where she studied anthropology and journalism.
After college Burr spent a year studying acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and then moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. It was during this time that she changed her first name to Burr.
Once in New York, Burr switched her focus to journalism. She covered young innovators and entrepreneurs as a reporter for Esquire and Forbes Magazines and later worked as a researcher for the TV show “Adam Smith’s Money World.”
At Esquire Magazine, 1984
With Lotte in London, 1991
During her years in New York, Burr became an avid student of the Lotte Berk Method, an exercise class she discovered in 1981. She married Carl Diehl, a lawyer, and shortly after their wedding in 1990, he treated her with a trip to London to meet exercise pioneer Lotte Berk.
As the two of them walked out of Lotte’s little studio after the meeting, they hit on the idea of starting their own exercise business. They bought a license to operate Lotte Berk Method studios in Connecticut, and Burr spent a preparatory year studying and teaching The Lotte Berk Method at its New York studio.
Training to teach the Lotte Berk method in New York City
Burr opened her first Lotte Berk Method studio in Greenwich, Connecticut in May 1992.
Opening day in Greenwich, 1992
Immediately, she noticed that some of her clients’ knees, backs and shoulders were not responding well to the exercises and sought the help of a physical therapist. Under his guidance she reworked the exercises so that they would target students’ muscles without impacting their joints. Burr continued to improve on the technique as she and Carl opened three more Lotte Berk Method studios in New Canaan, Darien and Westport, Connecticut.
With sister Mimi in her West Hollywood studio
By the time their 10-year license term was up for renewal in 2000, Burr’s version of exercise technique had become so different from the Lotte Berk Method’s that the two companies agreed to part ways. Burr and Carl immediately founded The Bar Method and shortly afterwards sold their Connecticut studios. In 2001 they opened their first Bar Method exercise studio in the Marina district of San Francisco, California.
“I feel lucky that the fitness technique that has enhanced my life is something we are making more and more available to people.”
~ Burr Leonard
Initially Burr and Carl didn’t anticipate opening more studios. Their minds changed when their students began to approach them seeking studios of their own. In the early 2000s, Burr’s sister Mimi opened a studio in Los Angeles, then two more in West Hollywood and Brentwood. Throughout the decade, Burr and Carl became franchisors of many more studios throughout the country and in Canada. Along the way Burr produced seven home exercise DVDs, and the company developed a line of exercise equipment & branded clothing.In 2012, Carl retired from the Bar Method, and Mainsail Partners, a private equity firm, acquired a 40% interest in its operations.
Carl and Burr in their Darien, CT studio
Today Burr dedicates her time to ensuring consistency and quality in the exercise system, guiding her franchisees, and producing media products. She is currently working on a library of streaming Bar Method classes and a book on the Bar Method. She lives in Sausalito, California with her husband Michael Doud, COO of the Bar Method companies, and their Pomeranian Pi.
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