I recently tried a one-month unlimited membership to a Dailey Method studio in Northern California. I had never tried a barre class before and had read good reviews online. It was created in 2000 by Jill Dailey, who has a B.S. in Kinesiology (as do I) and was a certified personal trainer (as was I). She created an exercise program that incorporates Pilates (which I love), yoga, the Lotte Berk method/barre/dance, and orthopedic exercises (which I desperately need for my hip pain and poor posture). It really seemed like a good match for me, other than the cost!
The studio was small but very clean and modern. The employees and patrons were eerily quiet, or perhaps snobby, and it seemed as if either no one knew each other or no one liked to talk. There is only one class offered, no varying levels. The room is carpeted and everyone is expected to wear socks, preferably the grippy kind they sell at the front desk. One wall is bright lime green, and ballet barre’s surround the perimeter of the room. There are hand-weights from 2 lbs up to 5 lbs, and small green balls to place between your thighs and squeeze. The music is great, but the small sound system left me wishing they had a sub.
The instructors rarely model the exercises. I prefer they do the whole class with their students. Then when things get challenging, you are motivated that they can keep going. It’s also nice to watch the perfect form and then make modifications to yours as necessary. They walk around the room saying “higher and tighter” and often use solely verbal cues to describe exercises. I found myself having to look at other students to figure out what I should be doing.
The format is identical in every single class. The exercises change, but the warm-up is always high knees, following by plank and/or push-ups, hand weights for biceps, triceps, and deltoids, then high-C curve abs, thigh work at the barre, seat work, low-C curve, make some pelvic tilts which they seemed to call “back dancing,” and perhaps some straight leg activities as you’re sitting on the floor with your back against the wall. There are stretches sprinkled throughout, including “anatomically correct splits,” but none of them are held for longer than 20 seconds and I found almost no change to my flexibility in a month, despite going 3-4x/week. At the end, you lay on your back for a minute, then the class is over. Everyone exits quietly and grabs their stuff to leave fast. Few people lingered.
The movements are all done while “the muscle is in its longest position,” and then you lift an inch or hold it. Every movement is so incredibly tiny that the instructors sometimes say you should barely be able to see it. Or you lift but don’t lower. Perhaps that’s why the instructors hardly do the exercises, because you wouldn’t really be able to see them doing anything anyway. I got the impression that the theory is this will give you a long, lean, tightened look. I can’t say whether or not that’s true, because only one instructor I saw actually had a tight, lean look. I certainly saw no major changes to my body in one month. One thing I can say for sure with this philosophy is that your heart rate never gets raised, and I’d be shocked if you ever broke a sweat. I certainly never did, which I guess is a good thing, since the flooring is carpet. The problem is, if this method actually does lengthen and tighten yours muscles, if you’re not raising your heart rate or sweating, you’re not burning off the fat on top. So you’ll never really know what you did to your muscles.
My greatest disappointment is that I never got sore. Despite doing completely new moves that I’d never tried, and despite shaking and feeling the burn in class, I never got sore. Was it because it wasn’t challenging enough for a fairly fit person? Or were the movements too small to induce soreness? I don’t know, but the instructors were surprised that I had never felt a tiredness or soreness in my muscles the day after to let me know that it was doing something, anything. I don’t have a lot of time to workout, and I want my one-hour $20 class to count. Instead, I found myself coming home and popping in an exercise DVD to do on top of The Dailey Method class. I also don’t see how someone could continue to challenge herself in a class like this. There were only limited modifications to moves to make them harder.
The other thing I wasn’t crazy about was working your entire body in every class. Why not offer a class that focuses on seat and thighs, or abs and arms? I like to challenge one group of muscles, then let them rest the next day as I work others. And I found the lack of exercises for any back muscles whatsoever completely discouraging.
Things I did like: the music, the stretching, the emphasis on form (especially for the abs), the new exercises I’d never tried (mostly related to the barre), the seat work in the pretzel position, and the fact that it opened my eyes to barre style classes.
At the end of my month, I decided this definitely wasn’t the workout for me. I do think it would be worthwhile as a substitute for a PT session. The emphasis on transverse abdominus (and pulling your belly in!) as well as squared, level hips, and perfect posture was very nice. In fact, my weak right hip that has caused me so much pain for five years felt better after many of the exercises in this class. But I can’t imagine this being the sole exercise I do 3-4x/week. It’s just not nearly intense or challenging enough.
I told a friend of mine who teaches barre classes in another state about my impression of The Dailey Method. She recommended Physique 57, which I have purchased and am trying at home. So far, I like the greater range of motion, higher intensity, and quicker pace than The Dailey Method. We’ll see if it can keep me challenged and deliver a long, lean look.