Lotte Berke and the Evolution of the Ballet Barre
If you are looking for an exercise class that combines the low-impact muscle control of ballet with modern strength training then the barre method is perfect for you! To get a full appreciation of this relatively new fitness technique, here is the story of the barre method and its creator:
Lotte Berke was born on January 13th, 1913 in Cologne, Germany. Her mother was German and her father was Russian. She became a ballet dancer, joining several prominent companies in Europe. She married fellow dancer Ernst and fled Germany in the 1930’s to live in London. There, she worked as a model at Heatherley School of Fine Art and also danced at Covent Garden. She quickly realized that her dance style was not popular with the British and was forced to consider other career options.
After injuring her back, Berke decided to combine her ballet barre training and rehabilitative exercises into one work out. She called her new technique the Lotte Berke Method. This method focused on strengthening and stretching different muscle groups with small movements rather than large multi-muscle exercises like squats. It also mixed barre and floor sections in its exercise routines.
In 1959, Berke opened her first fitness centre only for women to share her technique with others. As the popularity of the style grew over the years, she attracted celebrities like Joan Collins, Barbra Streisand, Edna O’Brien, and many more. In 1991 Lotte sold the licensing for her barre method to Burr Leonard, Mimi Fleischman, and Carl Diehl so they could bring the ballet barre fitness classes back to New York City and Connecticut. The new method continued to grow with each owner opening multiple studios in the U.S.
Eventually Burr and Carl ended their licensing agreement of Lotte’s barre method and created their own low-impact variation called The Barre Method. This took the exercises from Pilates, ballet barre, and physiotherapy techniques to improve the results for participants with back and knee issues. Barre Studios continued to grow and incorporate different exercise styles to add a cardio element and focus on the body’s core. Lotte passed away in 2003, leaving her Berkshire studio to her daughter Esther Fairfax who continues to teach her mother’s method.
What started as a ballet-barre focused exercise program for dancers has turned into a global fitness movement over the last 20 years. With so many different fitness options, barre is a great mix of low-impact movements to achieve the best fitness results. This style will continue to grow and evolve as more and more people embrace its possibilities.