Sophie Ritchie, 41, set up a dance studio offering classes in Disco Barre and the Lotte Berk Technique. They help women feel fitter, more feminine and also beat menopause symptoms and improve their sex lives. Here she tells her story and explains three moves you can try for yourself!
As my class comes to an end, I look across the room at a sea of smiles. My students have a different air about them. I teach a unique and original style of Barre, which combines ballet, Pilates, dance, yoga and strength training.
I call it magical because it’s so powerful and works so quickly. Barre connects the mind and body in a way that leaves women feeling more confident, beautiful and sexually enlightened. It’s changed my life.
After finding myself a single mum to my daughter, Evie, now 13, my job as a new business co-ordinator in advertising lost its sparkle just as I discovered the Lotte Berk Barre Technique on an old VHS I found at a jumble sale.
Ballerina Lotte Berk introduced Barre to the world in 1959 and it became hugely popular in the 60s and 70s. I loved the tiny yet sexy moves. A friend told me about a studio in Richmond, Barreworks, teaching a version of the Lotte Berk Technique so I went along and after one class, I signed up for teaching training. I loved it.
Like a lightning bolt, an idea came to me to combine Barre with my love of disco. I trademarked Disco Barre and started teaching my own twist on Barre in studios around Hackney. Women loved the incredible, hardcore workout fusing ballet with house and disco beats.
A chance to learn more
Six years later, I was keen to further my training, so in October 2018 I reached out to Lotte’s daughter, Esther, asking whether she’d train me in her mother’s pure original technique. Still rocking a leotard, still strong yet gentle and still teaching from her home studio, Esther, in her mid-eighties, still has a twinkle in her eyes.
She wasn’t training anyone anymore but we got on brilliantly and she was keen to preserve her mother’s legacy, so it was a great honour when she made an exception for me. I graduated with a diploma and am now the only ‘master trainer’ in the UK.
This April, I opened the Disco Barre Studio (discobarre.com) in Dalston, London, offering The Lotte Berk Technique as well as Disco Barre and other barre and dance fitness classes.
A fusion of dance, feminine power and intense abdominal work that strengthens your core and pelvic floor, it is exercise in a feminine way. For all women, but especially those facing perimenopause, it gives you vitality and enhances mood. As hormones change, it’s common to put on weight in the abdominal area.
But when you tilt your pelvis and engage your core, you work your abs and also reduce fat. Many perimenopausal women feel as if they are losing their sense of self but as odd as it sounds, the Technique makes you feel sure of yourself as a woman.
Fire in the belly
Lotte famously never experienced a loss of sexual desire and drive, and reportedly never had hot flushes or vaginal dryness. She was known as a sexual revolutionist who encouraged women to explore and celebrate their sexuality. She was wonderfully open about sex, and remained sexually active in later life. I believe this is because her Technique fires up your core and makes you feel alive. Some of the moves are all about improving female sexual pleasure and I talk openly about that in the class.
Lotte pioneered the pelvic tilt, referring to it as the lovemaking position. It is brilliant because it engages the core and protects the spine, while sending a constant flow of blood to the sex organs.
Some women struggle with vaginal prolapse after childbirth or during perimenopause and the Technique helps because as well as defining abs and improving posture, it pulls things in and up. It helps preserve bladder and bowel control by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and you might enjoy sex more too. There’s no doubt the class makes women feel stronger, sexier, more feminine and graceful.
Perimenopause can also lead to a loss of strength in your joints, which affects balance. The class counteracts this with lots of stretching and balancing, performing high reps with a small range of motion.
I have a 99 per cent rate of return with clients, as once they find the Technique they don’t want to lose it! And at 41, I’ve never been in better shape physically or mentally.
3 moves to try
The distinct ‘tuck’ or posterior pelvic tilt is essential to the Lotte Berk Technique. It switches on core stabilisation muscles and the pelvic floor and helps support the lower spine. Do it for all these moves.
Higher and Higher…
SET UP: Stand with one hand on a barre (or sturdy chair). Have your feet parallel, with pelvis slightly tilted, and the leg furthest from the barre/chair up as high as you can. Have your arm out to the side in second position.
ACTION: Bend and stretch the lifted leg at the knee, but the tiniest bend you can – merely a softening of the leg, with more focus on the stretch part. Then bend and stretch with the leg even higher. Repeat 12 times, then flex your foot and do tiny pulses until you can’t take any more. This is great for your thighs!
Hello Sailor (the original ‘pretzel’)
SET UP: Sit on the floor with hips square to the front, knees bent, one leg in front of you, with the sole of the foot touching the knee of your other leg, which is bent behind you. Have the same arm as front leg behind your head, with the other one on your hip. Sit tall.
ACTION: Lift the back foot off the floor eight times, knee down, then lift the back knee of the floor eight times, then pulse the whole leg up and down. This works deep into your waist and bottom.
In each Lotte Berk class we do a series of pelvic floor exercises. When we talk about the pelvic floor, we mean the whole lot from front to back (clitoris, vagina and anus).
SET UP: Sit cross legged, spine straight, shoulders back and down.
ACTION: Engage all of your pelvic floor by about 30 per cent but focus on pulsing up the centre (vaginal opening). I like to imagine it as a lift going up and down one floor. Just remember you can engage everything quickly, but must release slowly. Try not to tense anything else. Simply hold and release. Repeat this 12 times.