Northside SF
Fitness First
Want a ballet-buff body? Try out a Bar or Dailey workout

If you’re a big fan of San Francisco Ballet like I am, there’s one thing you’ve probably noticed: ballet dancers are in awesome shape – they’re not just graceful, but sculpted too. In addition to rehearsals and gym workouts, dancers take daily bar classes to warm up their muscles and provide full-body stretching and toning.

But you don’t have to take a ballet class to get a dancer’s body. You can try one of the City’s hottest exercise studios – The Bar Method or The Dailey Method. Both methods focus on working small muscle groups while maintaining proper alignment using the body’s own weight along with light free weights to strengthen and lengthen the muscles. Some of the exercises like push-ups and sit-ups are familiar, while others are more like custom-tailored isometrics.

Taking classes at the Lotte Berk Method in New York inspired the founders of both The Bar Method and The Dailey Method. Berk, a former dancer who suffered a back injury from an onstage fall, developed the method in the late 1950s in collaboration with an orthopedic physician. The exercises, available on DVD, are a combination of strength training, dance, orthopedic back exercises, and hatha yoga. The goal was to firm, lengthen and shape muscles, resulting in a rounder, firmer rear; flat outer thighs; a lean torso; and well-defined waistline – the same goals as those of The Daily Method and The Bar Method.

Jill Dailey McIntosh opened The Dailey Method in 2000 originally in the Marina and offered the first ballet bar class of its kind on the West Coast. And Burr Leonard opened the first of many studios in 2001, The Bar Method on Fillmore Street.

Both studios have branched out into franchises, and Lululemon-clad celebrities and San Franciscans from teenagers to septuagenarians flock to the classes in droves. But why are these workouts so popular?

Both methods feature similar moves that focus on the seat, thighs, core and abs, arms and back, and promise to improve posture, strength, and stamina in a joint-safe environment. While some exercises are done lying on mats or seated, much of the work happens standing at a wooden ballet bar in a carpeted, mirror-lined room. The bar offers exercisers something to hold on to as they work their gluts, and inner and outer thighs through a series of small, intense movements, like rising up and down on tiptoes with a rubber ball clasped between the thighs. The exercises often result in trademark shaking, meaning that burning muscles are being worked to the max. Thankfully, during an hour-long class, each muscle group is worked hard but efficiently; a set only lasts for four or five minutes, and a spirited soundtrack and inspiringly toned instructor help.

Both The Dailey Method and The Bar Method have convenient locations in the Marina and Cow Hollow as well as other areas. Both methods are safe for new moms and moms to be; many instructors teach while pregnant. Childcare for a fee is available at each studio, and clients can purchase one class at a time for $22–$24 up to a monthly, unlimited pass for $225–$250, with discount packages available for new clients. To see results, both studios recommend taking classes at least three times a week. Regular clients report losing inches off waist, hips, and thighs, better overall muscle definition, and a higher level of energy.

The Bar Method: 3333 Fillmore Street (at Lombard), 415-441-6333,

The Dailey Method: 2399 Greenwich Street (at Pierce), 415-345-9992,

Julie Mitchell can be reached at

March 2012
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