Lotte Berk, Exercise Pioneer
July 10, 2009
The Bar Method is based on the technique of Lotte Berk, (shown left), a German dancer who fled the Nazis in the late 1930s and came to London with her British husband.
After injuring her back, Lotte got the idea of combining her ballet bar routines with her rehabilitative therapy to form an exercise system. In 1959 she opened The Lotte Berk Studio in her West End basement. There, she sculpted the bodies of her students, among them Brooke Shields, Joan Collins and Brit Ekland, as she entertained them with bawdy humor and tips on love.
One of her students, an American named Lydia Bach, was so impressed with the technique that she bought the rights to Lottes name and in 1971 opened The Lotte Berk Method exercise studio in Manhattan.
Ten years later, two sisters, Burr Leonard and Mimi Fleischman took their first Lotte Berk Method class and also fell in love with the technique. In 1991, Burr along with her new husband Carl Diehl bought a license to operate Lotte Berk Method studios in Southern Connecticut.
Burr spent a year studying and teaching The Lotte Berk Method at the Manhattan studio, then opened her first Lotte Berk exercise studio in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Immediately, Burr 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 sculpting exercises so that they would target students muscles without impacting their joints. (To read about the health benefits of The Bar Method Exercise Studio’s low impact workout, click here.)
During the 90s, Burr and Carl opened three more Lotte Berk Method studios in New Canaan, Darien and Westport, Connecticut. At right, you can see Burr Leonard and Lotte Berk in 1991 when Burr and Carl visited her in London.
At the end of their ten-year license term, the Connectict studios were thriving, but Burr’s version of The Lotte Berk Method had become so unlike her licensors that she and Carl made the decision not to renew. In 2001, they founded The Bar Method, sold their Connecticut studios and opened their flagship Bar Method exercise studio in San Francisco, California. Two years later, Burrs sister Mimi Leonard Fleischman opened the first Los Angeles Bar Method studio in partnership with her husband Mark.
Since then, Carl has retired, and around 70 studios have opened in the U.S. and Canada. (Click here to find all the Bar Method Exercise Studios.) Burr divides her time between guiding her franchisees and producing Bar Method media products, among them exercise dvds Change Your Body!, Accelerated Workout, “Super Sculpting” 1 and 2,” “Beginner’s Workout,” and “Dancer’s Body.” (Click here to sample and buy these Bar Method exercise dvds.)
During the same period that Burr and Carl were opening their first Bar Method studios, other former Lotte Berk Method teachers began to develop their own versions of the technique. In 2003, Lotte Berk managers Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Haffpapp gathered up eight of their fellow teachers and left to join Exhale Spa, located ten blocks away from their former studio, where they now teach a version of Lotte Berk called Core Fusion.
The departure of so many key teachers caused The Lotte Berk Method itself to fold in 2005. The next year another off-shoot sprang up when Tanya Becker, a former Lotte Berk Method teacher, became the director of Physique 57, a Lotte Berk-styled studio on West 57th Street. Other current Lotte Berk Method spin-offs include Pure Barre, Fluidity, Dailey Method, BarrePhysique, Barre3, Karve, PopPhysique, Go Figure, Body Fit, The Debbie Frank Studio, and Bodd.