Hitting the barre

Who wouldn’t want to have a ballerina’s body?

Cindy Sites, the lithe beauty behind the Go Figure Barre Studios, says you can achieve a longer, leaner look with her challenging hour-long exercise classes that will have your legs shaking and glutes burning. The end result is a beautifully sculpted feminine body.

For more than a decade, Sites and her team of instructors have been transforming women’s bodies with the Figure Method – a unique fitness technique she developed that combines principles of classical ballet, yoga, Pilates and orthopedic exercise. The method has produced such a throng of devotees that since opening its first studio in Greenwich, the strictly word-of-mouth business has grown to 12 locations, with the most recent being in Palm Beach.

“We’re known for our very lifted seat. That’s kind of our signature,” says Sites with a smile at her Rye studio, where she just finished teaching two back-to-back classes.

“It’s a very specific look, and you can see it a mile away,” she says about her incredibly toned clients.

There are two phases to the Figure Method. One is strengthening muscles and the other is lengthening them. Muscle groups are shaped through slow, sustained movements, followed by intense stretching to avoid building bulk.

The Figure Method is a complete workout and one you’ll likely be reminded of the next day when your body aches from top to bottom as mine did. My class began with basic warm-up stretches on the floor, which I breezed through, then on to light hand weights for toning arms. How hard can it be to lift 2-pound weights?  Plenty hard as it turns out.

Next, our instructor Raquel motioned us to the barre for a few more stretches before the deluge of pliés, relevés, leg lifts, squeezes and tucks. And just when I’d thought the burn part had ended, she had us down on the floor for more leg lifts but this time using a rubber band around our thighs for resistance. The one-hour class culminated with abdominal work and a final stretch.

“Gyms don’t produce this type of physique, because they’re strengthening, they’re pumping, doing machines,” Sites says. “They’re missing that second phase (stretching) and that’s the most critical phase. That’s what creates the beautiful look.

“We only offer one method of exercise. We consider ourselves specialists. We do one thing and I think we do it really well.

“If you look at a dancer’s body, it never ages, at least not from the neck down,” says Sites, who at 52, is living proof that the age-defying Figure Method really works. From the neck up, she can credit her youthful looks to being blessed with good genes.

But the Figure Method is not just about looking good. It’s about conditioning your body to be strong and healthy.

“If you can do the exercises and stretches that we teach at Go Figure, your body will be ageless. This is exercise for life,” she says.

If there’s one thing Sites would like to impart to her clients is that they walk out of her studio with great posture. When a dancer walks into a room and heads turn, she says, it’s not because she’s pretty, it’s because of the way she carries herself.

“Once you have that you never lose it.”

From the time she was a little girl, Sites studied classical dance and dreamed of one day becoming a prima ballerina. But her parents urged her to forgo a professional career in dance to attend college instead. She heeded their wishes but remembers missing the physicality of the art form.

Sites’ love of dance led her to American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she was a member of the board of trustees for more than 20 years. Since 2004, she has been a trustee of the New York City Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet in Manhattan.

George W. Bush tapped her to be on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which she says it was an honor to be a part of. She describes her experience working with Laura Bush on after-school programs for inner cities as a wonderful experience.

In 1991, Sites moved from New York City to Greenwich with her husband and baby. Today she has two grown children, a daughter who is married and a son attending Georgetown University. Like many new moms, she felt her body had changed and wanted to get back in shape. After trying everything from aerobics to step classes, a friend introduced her to Lotte Burke, a German-born former dancer who, with the help of an osteopath, developed a method of exercise for injured dancers based on her background that concentrates on the idea of building core stability and on targeting specific areas for strength and flexibility. And that was it for her, she says.

“I discovered a method of exercise that really resonated with me, because it utilized all this classical ballet technique. And that made a lot of sense. There were certain elements of it that didn’t make sense for me and I didn’t love. But nonetheless, I trained with them, started teaching for them on Greenwich Avenue.”

So when the Greenwich Avenue studio closed after several changes of ownerships, at the urging of many clients, she took what she says was a leap of faith and opened what would become the first of many Go Figure Studios.

But before setting up shop, Sites set out to refine the studio’s barre method – consulting with chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons and dancers and replacing many core maneuvers that often landed clients in the chiropractor’s office with exercises that were safe, therapeutic and more effective. The Figure Method was born.

In the last several years, there has been a proliferation of barre-type exercise classes, but that hasn’t seemed to deter the fitness entrepreneur.

“Everybody thinks they can go teach a barre class, because they’ve been to one or they’ve watched a DVD.  What we’re doing is what I believe is the purest form of barre exercise.”

And she’s not the only one who thinks so.

ABT has invited Sites to bring her Figure Method into their 890 Broadway studios, where these classes are open to the public.

“That may not sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge deal, because ABT is hallowed ground,” she says of the company that has featured stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov. “It’s never been open to the general public before.”

To have the endorsement of ABT is for her one terrific accolade.

“I guess you could say it’s the ultimate barre class.”

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