The Dailey Method

I’ve been promising a detailed post about Dailey Method.  Each time I sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed by the process of describing the exercises, how my practice has changed, and how my practice has changed me.  Here goes:

The Dailey Method is one of a number of barre-based class formats based on the work of German dancer and fitness guru Lotte Berk.  Others include Bar Method, Barre3 (from what I can tell from their website), Physique57, and Core Fusion  Jill Dailey was a long-time pilates instructor before developing TDM 11 years ago.  From their website:

The Dailey Method® is a system of strengthening and stretching all the major muscle groups in the body. It combines ballet barre work, core conditioning, yoga, and orthopedic exercises. The controlled movements are very focused, effective, and safe. Proper alignment is our primary focus. Then each set of exercises is followed by a series of active stretches to develop more sculpted and supple muscles.

While the specific exercises vary pretty widely, the typical TDM class format goes like this:

* Marching with a variety of arm positions/motions to elevate the heart rate.

* Plank variations and pushup variations often including very not nice chaturanga pushups.

* High C-Curve.  This is the first set of abdominal exercises where the body is balanced on the sacrum.  From this position, a small tilting of the tailbone will function as a really effective crunch.  In the photograph below, you can see the owner of my studio being guided into an even higher position by the instructor.  In class, many people would do this exercise with their hands behind their thighs for support.  There is also oblique work in this position. Occasionally, the first set of arm work with light weights is folded in with this set.  Each set of any type of exercises ends with active stretching and we typically move through Downward Dog into the next section of the class.

Reach for the stars, Susan!

* Arm work.  Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of repetitions of teeny, tiny movements with light weights.  Infinitely harder than a short set of bicep curls with your max weight.  Get ready to hear and despise the phrase “bend-reach, bend-reach, bend-reach.”  As with every section of class, proper form and alignment is emphasized and reinforced.  Instructors will correct your physically and are constantly cuing aspects of form that improve the efficacy of the exercises.

(At this point, myself and the other trade staff are scrambling around picking up everyone’s weights and putting them away!)

* Thigh work.  So many variations.  So much pain.  As you make your way up to your spot at the ballet barre, you think “what fresh hell am I in for today?  Waterski?  Seated chair? Or just a seemingly endless sequence of pliés where the well-meaning instructor keeps yelling at  prompting you to sink lower and lift your heels higher because she knows that you can?”  Ughhhhhhhhh……….so good.  Legs shake like they’re made out of jelly fish.  As you can see below, sometimes there’s a ball.  Usually it’s between your thighs.  You have to squeeze the ball.  I actually really like the ball.


* A sequence of quad, hamstring, calf, and IT band stretches beginning in a lunge and culminating in the “anatomically correct Dailey Method split.”  There is a major emphasis on the squareness of your hips in your split so for the vast majority of folks, it’s just a deeper hamstring stretch.  I use this sequence of stretching before and after my runs and haven’t had any physical issues as I’ve doubled my mileage in the last month.

* Seat work.  Like thigh work, there are many different faces this set can take.  They’re all really difficult.  I pray for the seated or prone variations because the support of the floor allows me to actually work in my glutes.  When seat work is standing or on all-fours, it’s difficult to target the working glute (the one off the floor) and not overly fatigue your standing leg.  I suppose that’s the point.  While all areas of Dailey Method have evolved in fascinating ways for me, seat work has gone from absolutely demoralizing and frustrating to just very, very challenging.  I’m still very relieved when I’m sitting in Pigeon stretch afterward.

…..what’s next?  At this point, I’m so happy that seat work is over, I don’t really care what’s going on….

* A sequence of quad, hamstring, calf, and IT band stretches at the barre.  Some balance work here and occasionally lots of leg lifts, if the instructor is feeling, um, mean.

* Two more abdominal sets: Flat Back and Low C-Curve.  Low C-Curve is close to a traditional “crunch” position, established by laying on the floor, propped up on your elbows.  Once the abdominals are “suctioned back towards the spine”, you bring your hands behind your thighs and use your biceps to bring you up into an even higher crunch position.  From there, the work is done either with hands holding on, or if you’re super strong and can keep your abs engaged, you can release your hands.  Often, there are low c-curve variations where your legs are elevated into a tabletop position or straight up.  Flat Back can be done against the wall (under the barre) or on the floor.  The exercises in the flat back set recruit the lower abdominal muscles and can be really, really challenging.  I remember my early classes where I was being prompted to lift my feet off the floor and they felt like they were made of lead.

* The last sets include low or high back dancing, where one lays on the floor and does some glute and thigh isolation exercises.  High back dancing is in a position similar to a shoulder bridge and low is completely on the floor.  After this short set are some final relaxation poses and stretches like Happy Baby.

Wow – writing my way through a class was almost as tiring as taking one!  I have a lot to say about my personal experiences with these exercises but I will save that for Part II.

Now get off the computer and go find a barre class!

*Photos were taken from the Dailey Method website and blog.

8 thoughts on “The Dailey Method

  1. Julie says:

    Love love love this post! I had a 2 week voucher, which I used up and have decided I’m going to stick with it. I have to say, I wasn’t a huge fan after the first class, but there were aspects I liked (I need seat work!). The instructor (owner) for the next 2 classes was kind of crazy (she literally punched her fist in my stomach), but I surprisingly don’t mind being adjusted and who knew I had such bad posture?! I ended up deciding I loved it, and while I’m bummed that the class schedule doesn’t work for me to go very often, I bought 5 more classes and my husband is even going to try it with me. Even though there’s never guys there. And even though there’s thigh ball squeezing involved. :p

    OMG, seated chair. Kicked my A$$ last weekend. I kept having to come out of it and shake out my legs! Haha. It’s amazing how fast an hour goes by and how much…tighter I feel as a result of class. Definitely a great form of exercise to mix in with my usual cardio/weight routine!

    PS: Thanks for being so vocal about TDM. I bought that voucher almost solely from your praise and I’m so happy I did. I just wish it wasn’t so pricey! Ha.

    • Shauna says:

      YAAAAAAAAAAY! Yeah, seat work is so challenging and can be so frustrating. I love that you love it. Sounds like that studio owner is very high energy and quite hands on. The adjustment is really beneficial but I don’t know if I’d appreciate being punched in the stomach. A verbal cue is adequate, kthnkxz.

      • Julie says:

        My main issue with the seat work is how awkward it can feel. I feel like I’m doing it wrong, but I got no corrections, so I don’t think I was. Ick.

        She is very high energy and I actually like her overall. She’s just very rough – that’s just her personality. The stomach punching actually worked in that I totally sucked in my stomach flab! Ha! Overall I do find that gentler motions are less jarring, and therefore more effective for correcting my form. Either way, she kicked my butt and I can work with that. 😉

      • Shauna says:

        One of the instructors I really like told me that it took her a good 5-6 months to really “get” seat work. Some variations are easier than others but I find that in any standing or knee variation, I still struggle with having too much weight in my standing leg/hip and not enough of the work in my working glute. It takes time.

  2. Julie says:

    Yeah, that’s my issue! I can’t figure out how to keep everything tight and alligned while putting my weight off my standing leg. I just…don’t get it. I look forward to things getting easier with time and experience. 🙂

  3. Tonia says:

    This is a fantastic writeup, thanks Shauna! One question — isn’t the first set of ab exercises that you describe (and included the pic of) High C-Curve?

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