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.
* 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!