As a woman who was raised in ballet slippers, has cried over episodes of The Great British Baking Show and is heading to Harry Potter World this weekend, you can imagine my delight when I walked into a fitness class at Pure Yoga NYC with legendary British barre instructor, Esther Fairfax. It’s possible you haven’t heard of Esther, but if you’ve ever ventured into the world of barre fitness or sculpting, you’ve definitely done the moves she’s been teaching for 54 years.
At the young age of 83 (Yes! You read that correctly…83!) Esther Fairfax greets you with a platinum blonde bob, an incomparable physique, and a charm that instantly makes you fall in love with her. While many workout classes involve weights, jump ropes, boxes, or trampolines, Esther’s class simply requires a barre and yoga mat. Don’t let that fool you though! Barre classes are deceptively difficult! I’ve spent over 18 years at the ballet barre, and Esther had me in a sweat within 5 minutes!
Before I share my classroom experience, let me take you back a few years! How can you break a sweat without lifting up a weight or running on a treadmill? That’s exactly what Esther’s mother, Lotte Berk, figured out in the 1950’s when she created The Lotte Berk Method. When Lotte sustained a back injury, she was given physical therapy exercises for rehabilitation. Lotte saw the potential of mixing the exercises from her ballet background with her physical therapy exercises, and from this combination, barre technique was born. Thousands have used her method since she opened her first studio in London in 1959. Many have taken her ideas and put their own spin on them, but her daughter Esther has taught and faithfully stuck to her technique for over five decades.
Fast forward to last Friday, Esther Fairfax welcomed us into her classroom with open arms and the loveliest British accent! We started class with a brief stretch. Using descriptive language such as “dive like a porpoise through the ocean”, Esther got our bodies warm and ready for the real action. I placed my left hand on the barre, stood with my feet together, rose up on my toes as if I were wearing high heels, put my other hand on my hip, and followed Esther through a series of exercises for toning the thighs. Some exercises involved lifting one leg to the side. Some had you bend and straighten your knees. Some had you move your pelvis in a tucking motion. ALL were demonstrated perfectly by Esther herself. ALL sent a burning, can-barely-feel-your-legs-anymore sensation through the thighs!
We then hit the floor to sculpt our abdominals and strengthen the core. A strong core means a strong, healthy back. Instead of doing a thousand crunches, Esther had us sit under the barre and led us in an ab series that had us majorly sweating and majorly strengthening our deepest core muscles! One moment Esther would be correcting our form. The next moment you’d hear her lovingly say, “I can see the soles of your feet, but I can also see the souls of your inside!”
I’ve taken a lot of barre classes over the last seven years, but this one was special. I was beaming through the burn and laughing as she poked my “bum” to correct my alignment. It’s not very often you get to take class from a legend, and that, my friends, is exactly what Ms. Fairfax is: a living legend!
If you ever find yourself wandering through the outskirts of London in need of a toning session, Esther still teaches group classes and privates out of her home. I encourage you to visit http://www.lotte-berk.com and watch her Q&A videos or read her blog. I’ve done my best to paint the gorgeous picture that is Esther Fairfax, but seeing her in action is marveling.
It was a morning that can never be replicated; only remembered with the fondest of smiles. I’ll carry Esther’s wink and nod of affirmation with me as I hit the barre moving forward!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Madison Embrey is a Michigan native that moved to NYC in 2010. After completing her BFA in Commercial Dance from Pace University in downtown Manhattan, she toured the United States and Europe with a live-action stunt show called Marvel Universe Live! Now back pursuing her dance career in NYC, she can most often be seen with a smile on her face and a coffee in hand. You can follow Madison on Instagram at @madisonembrey.