One Big, Bad Barre Fight

Barre studios are cropping up all over town, which means thrilled students, excited teachers, and some nasty turf wars along the way.

Heidi Anderson loves barre. She’s been practicing for years. In fact, the 29-year-old fitness instructor has been teaching the method for more than a year and half, and got certified in the lengthening and strengthening technique because she “loved the classes so much.” Currently, she teaches at Simply Barre, a newly opened studio in South Boston.

Her long love of barre is a big reason why Anderson decided to speak up on Facebook last week after a couple of slights from the city’s barre “community”:

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Facebook commenter “Matt S” above is correct, except it is not the “barre method,” is it the Lotte Berk Method. All modern forms of barre that you know today were based on the teachings of the late Berk, a NYC-based professional dancer who created the method—which has been around for more than 50 years—that combines strength-training, dance, orthopedic back exercises, and Hatha yoga in an hour-long, mind-body workout. While each studio has its own tweaks and changes, it’s been my experience that most barre classes are very similar. So, whether you go to Pure Barre, the Bar Method, Core Fusion at Exhale, or Barre3 in Needham, you’ll never feel out of place because you’ll probably recognize at least half of the moves.

So why are some of Boston’s barre studios kicking out instructors? It’s not like it’s a proprietary method, as evidenced by the studios popping up everywhere, similar moves in classes, and the plethora of web videos you can find of each workout.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Last spring, the fitness world was abuzz when Barry’s Bootcamp owner Joey Gonzalez claimed he was told he can no longer go to SoulCycle. For their part, SoulCycle has never confirmed this to the press. Regardless, now it seems as if we’re seeing a similar kind of studio vs. studio fighting in Boston.

Back in December, Anderson says that after taking a class at Exhale, she was told she could not return. “I had been going to Exhale and Pure Barre before I even taught barre classes,” Anderson says. “I had a hip injury, and I like to do intense workouts, but I like barre because it’s not so hard on my body. I went to Exhale Back Bay in December and I took a class. [The instructor] took me aside and said, ‘You’re Heidi Anderson, right?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Unfortunately, we can’t allow you back to Exhale because we found out you are affiliated with Simply Barre,'” Anderson says.

Then in January, it was déjà vu: After she had taken numerous classes at the Pure Barre Brookline location, Anderson received the following email that she was no longer welcome at that studio, either:

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Like Pure Barre, Exhale is also citing “policy.” Kim Kiernan, public relations director for Exhale, says that during teacher training, all students must sign paperwork that states you can’t open a studio within a certain number of miles from an Exhale location. The co-owner of Simply Barre, Erin Dickman, who is Heidi’s manager, took that training, and her new studio is within that restriction, but the beef between the studios apparently takes you a little bit further down the rabbit hole.

Dickman says that she did take Exhale’s barre teacher training this past April, and says she was “explicit about opening a studio in the Boston-area prior to training and was given written permission from Fred DeVito [the co-creator of Core Fusion] to attend training.”

We’ve seen the emails can confirm that this exchange did take place prior to the training, however, at the time, Dickman did not yet know the exact location of her new studio—her email cites possible locations in Brookline or Downtown Boston. 

“Working with [the Exhale team] was such a wonderful experience that it was quite disappointing after spending [$10,000] with Exhale for training to have my monthly membership terminated without notice and be informed that I was ‘banned from Exhale worldwide,’ including all my staff,” Dickman says.

In response, Exhale issued the following statement (bolding is ours, for emphasis):

As a general rule, we open our doors to teachers from all studios. So much so, that in fall 2013, we launched our 40-hour Barre Teacher Training and continuing education programs in order to give students the tools they need to teacher their own barre class. As the barre sector is growing at a rapid pace, exhale’s 40-hour Barre Teacher Training was created to fill the industry need for trained teachers and to elevate the space. While those students are not certified in Core Fusion, graduates of the program will have learned the barre teaching basics from industry leaders. Once certified, graduates of the Barre Teacher Training program may teach a barre class anywhere outside of exhale’s established geographical restrictions (to teach Core Fusion at exhale requires additional training and certification). This specific case addresses a studio that is in violation of the aforementioned geographical restrictions. Outside of this restriction, exhale remains dedicated to building and welcoming the fitness community.

In spring of 2014 exhale’s Barre Teacher Training contract stated that trainees agreed to not open, manage or teach at barre studios within a 10 mile radius of exhale. That has since been updated to a five mile radius.

In this case, Simply Barre was granted an exception based on their impending opening in Brookline. Exhale approved this in good faith as we felt Brookline was outside of the competitive arena of our two existing Boston locations.

Kiernan says that during Dickman’s training, Exhale was under the impression that Dickman’s studio would definitely be opening in Brookline.

Simply Barre did not end up opening in Brookline. The studio location is in Southie, which is 1.3 miles walking from Exhale Back Bay, and close enough for Dickman and her employees to get a lifetime ban from Exhale. Dickman told Boston in December that finding a location took a while, and that she took a variety of barre classes across the country.

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Ironically, last May, Annbeth Eschbach, the owner of Exhale Spa, gave an interview to DuJour—in the wake of the Barry’s Bootcamp blow-up—and said that there needs to be more love in the fitness community and less of, well, this. “This thing is bigger than all of us,” she told the luxury publication. “Well-being is something everyone needs. It’d be very sad if we tore each other apart.”

In Anderson’s case, it seems like she’s now twice the victim of barre fights. Because she’s employed by Simply Barre, she’s in violation of not one, but two different policies at two studios she once loved to frequent. “Even if I go to other classes and learn new things, I can’t teach them at Simply Barre, anyways,” she says. “We have a set book of exercises and a format we have to follow to a T. I’m going to these other classes at Exhale and Pure Barre because I love the workout. It’s my time alone. I love where I work, and I can go to classes for free where I work, but I choose to pay to go elsewhere just to have my own personal time to work out.”

Fitness allegiances run deep, apparently, and in the end, its about people’s health, not egos. If anyone should be offended at all the methods popping up everywhere, it would be Lotte Berk herself. But something tells me she’d actually be thrilled.